Hypothyroidism in patients with renal cell carcinoma

Blessing or curse?




Sunitinib and sorafenib are tyrosine kinase inhibitors that have important antitumor activity in metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC). Hypothyroidism constitutes a commonly reported side effect of both drugs, and particularly of sunitinib. The objective of this analysis was to investigate whether the occurrence of hypothyroidism during treatment with sunitinib and sorafenib affects the outcome of patients with mRCC.


Eighty-seven consecutive patients with mRCC who were to receive treatment with sunitinib or sorafenib were included in a prospective analysis. Thyroid function was assessed in each patient every 4 weeks during the first 2 months of treatment and every 2 to 4 months thereafter. Assessment included serum levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), tri-iodthyronine (T3), and thyroxine (T4). Subclinical hypothyroidism was defined as an increase in TSH above the upper limit of normal (>3.77 μM/mL) with normal T3 and T4 levels.


Subclinical hypothyroidism was evident in 5 patients at baseline and occurred in 30 patients (36.1%) within the first 2 months after treatment initiation. There was a statistically significant correlation between the occurrence of subclinical hypothyroidism during treatment and the rate of objective remission (hypothyroid patients vs euthyroid patients: 28.3% vs 3.3%, respectively; P < .001) and the median duration of survival (not reached vs 13.9 months, respectively; hazard ratio, 0.35; 95% confidence interval, 0.14-0.85; P = .016). In multivariate analysis, the development of subclinical hypothyroidism was identified as an independent predictor of survival (hazard ratio, 0.31; P = .014).


The current results indicated that hypothyroidism may serve as a predictive marker of treatment outcome in patients with mRCC. Thus, the interpretation of hypothyroidism during treatment with sunitinib and sorafenib as an unwanted side effect should be reconsidered. Cancer 2011. © 2010 American Cancer Society.