The incidence of thyroid cancer has been rising over the past few decades along with a parallel increase in obesity.
Observational studies have provided evidence for a potential association between the two. By contrast, clinical data for a link between type 2 diabetes mellitus, a condition strongly associated with obesity, and thyroid cancer are limited and largely not supportive of such an association.
Obesity leads to hypoadiponectinemia, a pro-inflammatory state, and insulin resistance, which, in turn, leads to high circulating insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 levels, thereby possibly increasing the risk for thyroid cancer. Thus, insulin resistance possibly plays a pivotal role in underlying the observed association between obesity and thyroid cancer, potentially leading to the development and/or progression of thyroid cancer, through its interconnections with other factors including insulin-like growth factor-1, adipocytokines/cytokines and thyroid-stimulating hormone.
In this review, epidemiological and clinical evidence and potential mechanisms underlying the proposed association between obesity and thyroid cancer risk are reviewed. If the association between obesity and thyroid cancer demonstrated in observational studies proves to be causal, targeting obesity (and/or downstream mediators of risk) could be of importance in the prevention and management of thyroid cancer.