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Open access

Vasileios Chortis, Christine J H May, Kassiani Skordilis, John Ayuk, Wiebke Arlt and Rachel K Crowley

Summary

Context

Adrenal incidentalomas (AI) represent an increasingly common problem in modern endocrine practice. The diagnostic approach to AIs can be challenging and occasionally reveals surprising features. Here we describe two rare cases of complex adrenal lesions consisting of phaeochromocytomas with synchronous metastases from extra-adrenal primaries.

Case descriptions

Patient 1 – a 65-year-old gentleman with a newly diagnosed malignant melanoma was found to harbour an adrenal lesion with suspicious radiographic characteristics. Percutaneous adrenal biopsy was consistent with adrenocortical adenoma. After excision of the skin melanoma and regional lymphatic metastases, he was followed up without imaging. Three years later, he presented with abdominal discomfort and enlargement of his adrenal lesion, associated with high plasma metanephrines. Adrenalectomy revealed a mixed tumour consisting of a large phaeochromocytoma with an embedded melanoma metastasis in its core. Patient 2 – a 63-year-old lady with a history of NF-1-related phaeochromocytoma 20 years ago and previous breast cancer presented with a new adrenal lesion on the contralateral side. Plasma normetanephrine was markedly elevated. Elective adrenalectomy revealed an adrenal tumour consisting of chromaffin cells intermixed with breast carcinoma cells.

Conclusions

Adrenal incidentalomas require careful evaluation to exclude metastatic disease, especially in the context of a history of previous malignancy. Adrenal biopsy provides limited and potentially misleading information. Phaeochromocytomas are highly vascularised tumours that may function as a sieve, extracting and retaining irregularly shaped cancer cells, thereby yielding adrenal masses with intriguing dual pathology.

Learning points:

  • Adrenal incidentalomas require careful evaluation focused on exclusion of underlying hormone excess and malignant pathology.
  • Adrenal biopsy can be misleading and should only be considered in select cases.
  • Phaeochromocytomas harbouring intratumoural metastases from other, extra-adrenal primary malignancies represent rare pathological entities that highlight the complexities that can be presented by adrenal tumours.
Open access

Nikolaos Asonitis, Eva Kassi, Michalis Kokkinos, Ilias Giovanopoulos, Foteini Petychaki and Helen Gogas

Summary

Hypercalcemia of malignancy is the most common cause of hypercalcemia in hospitalized patients. It is associated with a poor prognosis, since it reflects an advanced cancer stage. Among all cancer in females, breast cancer is the most common malignancy, and it has the highest prevalence of hypercalcemia. Approximately 70% of patients with breast cancer have bone metastases and 10% of them will have hypercalcemia as a complication at some point in the disease. Herein, we report a 69-year-old female patient with metastatic breast cancer, who developed severe hypercalcemia in the course of her disease and was diagnosed with humoral hypercalcemia of malignancy (HHM). Intense hydration along with corticoisteroids and antiresorptive medication (calcitonin, bisphosphonates and denosumab) were administered to the patient. Despite the above treatment, serum calcium levels remain elevated and calcimimetic cinacalcet was added. Upon discontinuation of cinacalcet, calcium levels were raised and returned back to the normal levels following re-initiation of the calcimimetic. Her calcium level restored to normal, and she was discharged with the following medical treatment: denosumab monthly, and cinacalcet at a titrated dose of 90 mg per day. The patient is followed as an outpatient and 11 months later, her calcium level remained within the normal range.

Learning points:

  • Hypercalcemia of malignancy is the most common cause of hypercalcemia in hospitalized patients.
  • Breast cancer has the highest prevalence of hypercalcemia.
  • The cornerstone of therapy remains the intense hydration and intravenous bisphosphonates (preferably zoledronic acid).
  • In case of persistent hypercalcemia of malignancy, the administration of calcimimetic cinacalcet could be an additional effective therapeutic option.
Open access

Maura Bucciarelli, Ya-Yu Lee and Vasudev Magaji

Summary

Ectopic ACTH secretion from breast cancer is extremely rare. We report a case of a 30-year-old woman with a history of breast cancer, who presented with psychosis and paranoid behaviour. CT of the head showed white matter disease consistent with posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES). Despite using mifepristone with multiple antihypertensives including lisinopril, spironolactone and metoprolol, she was hypertensive. Transaminitis did not allow mifepristone dose escalation and ketoconazole utilization. Etomidate infusion at a non-sedating dose in the intensive care unit controlled her hypertension and cortisol levels. She was transitioned to metyrapone and spironolactone. She was discharged from the hospital on metyrapone with spironolactone and underwent chemotherapy. She died 9 months later after she rapidly redeveloped Cushing's syndrome and had progressive metastatic breast cancer involving multiple bones, liver and lungs causing respiratory failure.

Learning points

  • Cushing's syndrome from ectopic ACTH secreting breast cancer is extremely rare.
  • Cushing's syndrome causing psychosis could be multifactorial including hypercortisolism and PRES.
  • Etomidate at non-sedating doses in intensive care setting can be effective to reduce cortisol production followed by transition to oral metyrapone.