Drugs Commonly Used to Treat Thyroid Disease

Treating an Overactive or Underactive Thyroid Gland

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There are numerous thyroid drugs used in endocrinology, the medical specialty which deals with diseases of the glands and hormones. The drugs can be broadly broken down by the condition they are meant to treat, namely:

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck in front of the windpipe. The role of the thyroid gland is to produce the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) which regulate everything from heart rate and body temperature to respiratory function and a woman’s menstrual cycle. Any irregularities in the production of T3 orT4 can result in symptoms affecting one or more organ systems and range in severity from mild to debilitating.

Thyroid cancer, by contrast, is the 11th most common cause of cancer in the U.S., affecting more than 55,000 Americans and causing over 2,000 deaths annually, ​according to a report from the American Cancer Society.


Thyroid hormone replacement drugs are used to treat hypothyroidism. They work by replacing hormones that the thyroid gland is unable to produce or when thyroid has been radioactively treated or surgically removed.

Hypothyroidism can be caused by a number of conditions including iodine deficiency, Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune disorder), cancer therapy, or the partial or complete removal of the thyroid gland (thyroidectomy). It can also be the result of a congenital disorder in which the thyroid gland does not function as it should.

Some of the drugs used to treat hypothyroidism include:

  • Cytomel (liothyronine) is a synthetic version of T3
  • Levothyroxine, a synthetic form of T4 marketed under the brand names Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid, and Tirosint
  • Natural desiccated thyroid made from the desiccated pig thyroid


Anti-thyroid drugs are used to treat hyperthyroidism. They work by preventing the thyroid gland from absorbing iodine needed to make thyroid hormones.

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by Grave’s disease (another type of autoimmune disorder), non-cancerous thyroid nodules, thyroid inflammation (thyroiditis), and a malfunctioning pituitary gland (which works in tandem with the thyroid gland). Moreover, a phase of Hashimoto’s disease can also cause hyperthyroidism in the same way that it causes hypothyroidism.

There are currently two drugs approved for use in treating hypothyroidism in the U.S.:

Drugs Used to Treat Thyroid Cancer

In addition to treating hormonal imbalances, there are other drugs that are used to treat thyroid cancer. There are four different types of thyroid cancer, some of which are more treatable than others. Treatment approaches vary but tend to employ many the same drugs used for other cancers, including:

  • Adriamycin (doxorubicin hydrochloride)
  • Caprelsa (vandetanib)
  • Cometriq (cabozantinib-S-malate)
  • Lenvima (lenvatinib mesylate)
  • Nexavar (sorafenib tosylate)

Another drug known as Thyrogen (thyrotropin alfa) is used in people with thyroid cancer prior to radioactive iodine ablation. It is also used in those treated for cancer prior undergoing a follow-up scan. As a synthetic form of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), Thyrogen can ensure an accurate whole-body scan without causing hypothyroidism.

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Article Sources
  • American Cancer Society. "Key Statistics for Thyroid Cancer." Atlanta, Georgia; updated January 6, 2017.
  • Ross, D.; Burch, H.; Cooper, D. et al. "2016 American Thyroid Association Guidelines for Diagnosis and Management of Hyperthyroidism and Other Causes of Thyrotoxicosis." THYROID. 2016; 26(10): 1343-421. DOI: 10.1089/thy.2016.0229.
  • McAninch, E. and Bianco, A. "The History and Future Treatment of Hypothyroidism." Ann Intern Med. 2016; 164(1): 50-56. DOI: 10.7326/M15-1799.

  • National Cancer Institute: National Institutes of Health. "Drugs Approved for Thyroid Cancer." Bethesda, Maryland; updated March 12, 2015.