Papers And Originals

Thyroid function in lung cancer

Br Med J 1978; 1 doi: (Published 28 January 1978) Cite this as: Br Med J 1978;1:210
  1. J G Ratcliffe,
  2. B H R Stack,
  3. R W Burt,
  4. W A Ratcliffe,
  5. W G S Spilg,
  6. J Cuthbert,
  7. R S Kennedy


    Thyroid function was assessed at the time of initial diagnosis in 204 patients with lung cancer and compared with that of age and sex-matched patients with non-malignant lung disease. Abnormalities in thyroid function were found in 67 patients (33%). The most prevalent abnormality was a low T3 concentration; this was not associated with other clinical or biochemical evidence of hypothyroidism, but the short-term prognosis of these patients was worse than that of matched patients with lung cancer having normal T3 concentrations. Primary hypothyroidism occurred in three patients, low T4 concentrations and free thyroxine index (FTI) with normal thyrotrophin (TSH) concentrations in four patients, and moderately raised TSH with normal thyroid hormone concentrations in six patients; nine patients had a raised FTI with or without raised T4 concentration as the sole abnormality.

    Overall, the pattern of thyroid hormone metabolism in lung cancer was a tendency towards reduced T3 concentrations with significantly increased T4/T3 ratios and modestly increased 3,3′,5′-triiodothyronine (rT3) concentrations. The altered T4/T3 ratio was particularly noticeable in patients with anaplastic tumours of small (“oat cell”) and large cell types, but was not apparently related to detectable extrathoracic metastases.

    These data suggest that thyroid hormone metabolism is altered in patients with lung cancer by decreased 5′-monodeiodination of T4. The resulting low T3 concentrations and altered T4/T3 ratio may be partly responsible for the reduced ratio of androsterone to aetiocholanolone observed in lung cancer, which is known to be a poor prognostic sign.