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Open access

Carine Ghassan Richa, Khadija Jamal Saad, Georges Habib Halabi, Elie Mekhael Gharios, Fadi Louis Nasr and Marie Tanios Merheb

Summary

The objective of this study is to report three cases of paraneoplastic or ectopic Cushing syndrome, which is a rare phenomenon of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent Cushing syndrome. Three cases are reported in respect of clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment in addition to relevant literature review. The results showed that ectopic ACTH secretion can be associated with different types of neoplasm most common of which are bronchial carcinoid tumors, which are slow-growing, well-differentiated neoplasms with a favorable prognosis and small-cell lung cancer, which are poorly differentiated tumors with a poor outcome. The latter is present in two out of three cases and in the remaining one, primary tumor could not be localized, representing a small fraction of patients with paraneoplastic Cushing. Diagnosis is established in the setting of high clinical suspicion by documenting an elevated cortisol level, ACTH and doing dexamethasone suppression test. Treatment options include management of the primary tumor by surgery and chemotherapy and treating Cushing syndrome. Prognosis is poor in SCLC. We concluded that in front of a high clinical suspicion, ectopic Cushing syndrome diagnosis should be considered, and identification of the primary tumor is essential.

Learning points:

  • Learning how to suspect ectopic Cushing syndrome and confirm it among all the causes of excess cortisol.

  • Distinguish between occult and severe ectopic Cushing syndrome and etiology.

  • Providing the adequate treatment of the primary tumor as well as for the cortisol excess.

  • Prognosis depends on the differentiation and type of the primary malignancy.

Open access

Katia Regina Marchetti, Maria Adelaide Albergaria Pereira, Arnaldo Lichtenstein and Edison Ferreira Paiva

Summary

Adrenacarcinomas are rare, and hypoglycemic syndrome resulting from the secretion of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) by these tumors have been described infrequently. This study describes the case of a young woman with severe persistent hypoglycemia and a large adrenal tumor and discusses the physiopathological mechanisms involved in hypoglycemia. The case is described as a 21-year-old woman who presented with 8 months of general symptoms and, in the preceding 3 months, with episodes of mental confusion and visual blurring secondary to hypoglycemia. A functional assessment of the adrenal cortex revealed ACTH-independent hypercortisolism and hyperandrogenism. Hypoglycemia, hypoinsulinemia, low C-peptide and no ketones were also detected. An evaluation of the GH–IGF axis revealed GH blockade (0.03; reference: up to 4.4 ng/mL), greatly reduced IGF-I levels (9.0 ng/mL; reference: 180–780 ng/mL), slightly reduced IGF-II levels (197 ng/mL; reference: 267–616 ng/mL) and an elevated IGF-II/IGF-I ratio (21.9; reference: ~3). CT scan revealed a large expansive mass in the right adrenal gland and pulmonary and liver metastases. During hospitalization, the patient experienced frequent difficult-to-control hypoglycemia and hypokalemia episodes. Octreotide was ineffective in controlling hypoglycemia. Due to unresectability, chemotherapy was tried, but after 3 months, the patient’s condition worsened and progressed to death. In conclusion, our patient presented with a functional adrenal cortical carcinoma, with hyperandrogenism associated with hypoinsulinemic hypoglycemia and blockage of the GH–IGF-I axis. Patient’s data suggested a diagnosis of hypoglycemia induced by an IGF-II or a large IGF-II-producing tumor (low levels of GH, greatly decreased IGF-I, slightly decreased IGF-II and an elevated IGF-II/IGF-I ratio).

Learning points:

  • Hypoglycemyndrome resulting from the secretion of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) by adrenal tumors is a rare condition.

  • Hypoinsulinemic hypoglycemia associated with hyperandrogenism and blockage of the GH–IGF-I axis suggests hypoglycemia induced by an IGF-II or a large IGF-II-producing tumor.

  • Hypoglycemia in cases of NICTH should be treated with glucocorticoids, glucagon, somatostatin analogs and hGH.

Open access

Elise Flynn, Sara Baqar, Dorothy Liu, Elif I Ekinci, Stephen Farrell, Jeffrey D Zajac, Mario De Luise and Ego Seeman

Summary

ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma (ASP) is a rare cause of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (CS). We report the case of a 63-year-old female presenting with CS secondary to an ASP complicated by bowel perforation. This case report highlights ASP as an uncommon but important cause of ectopic ACTH secretion (EAS). There have been 29 cases of ASP, all of which were unilateral and benign, but associated with significant complications. Patients presenting with ASP have the potential for cure with unilateral adrenalectomy. Given this promising prognosis if recognised, ASP should be considered in the diagnostic workup of ACTH-dependent CS. As this case demonstrates, gastrointestinal complications can arise from severe hypercortisolaemia associated with CS. Early medical and surgical intervention is imperative as mortality approaches 50% once bowel perforation occurs.

Learning points

  • Consider phaeochromocytoma in the diagnostic workup of ACTH-dependent CS; screen with plasma metanephrines or urinary catecholamines.

  • Serial screening may be required if ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma is suspected, as absolute levels can be misleading.

  • Early catecholamine receptor blockade and adrenal synthesis blockade may avoid the need for rescue bilateral adrenalectomy in ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma.

  • Consider early medical or surgical management when gastrointestinal features are present in patients with CS, as bowel perforation due to severe hypercortisolaemia can occur and is associated with significant mortality.

Open access

Verena Schwetz, Felix Aberer, Claudia Stiegler, Thomas R Pieber, Barbara Obermayer-Pietsch and Stefan Pilz

Summary

Cushing's syndrome (CS) due to ectopic ACTH production accounts for about 10% of all types of CS and is frequently associated with metabolic alkalosis. Treatment of CS involves surgical resection and/or medical therapy to control hypercortisolism. We present the case of an 80-year-old woman affected by CS due to an unknown cause. The patient had severe metabolic alkalosis with refractory hypokalemia. To treat the underlying CS, fluconazole was initiated due to unavailability of ketoconazole. In spite of markedly decreasing cortisol levels, metabolic alkalosis persisted. Treatment of metabolic alkalosis with acetazolamide was thus initiated and pH levels successfully lowered. This case report shows that hypercortisolism can be effectively treated with fluconazole in cases where ketoconazole is unavailable or not tolerated and that persistent severe metabolic alkalosis caused by glucocorticoid excess can be safely and successfully treated with acetazolamide.

Learning points

  • Hypercortisolism can be effectively treated with fluconazole where ketoconazole is unavailable or not tolerated.

  • Glucocorticoid excess can cause severe metabolic alkalosis.

  • Persistent severe metabolic alkalosis can be safely and successfully treated with acetazolamide.

Open access

Sophie Comte-Perret, Anne Zanchi and Fulgencio Gomez

Summary

Medical therapy for Cushing's syndrome due to bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (BMAH) is generally administered for a limited time before surgery. Aberrant receptors antagonists show inconsistent efficacy in the long run to prevent adrenalectomy. We present a patient with BMAH, treated for 10 years with low doses of ketoconazole to control cortisol secretion. A 48-year-old woman presented with headaches and hypertension. Investigations showed the following: no clinical signs of Cushing's syndrome; enlarged lobulated adrenals; normal creatinine, potassium, and aldosterone; normal urinary aldosterone and metanephrines; elevated urinary free cortisol and steroid metabolites; and suppressed plasma renin activity and ACTH. A screening protocol for aberrant adrenal receptors failed to show any illegitimate hormone dependence. Ketoconazole caused rapid normalisation of cortisol and ACTH that persists over 10 years on treatment, while adrenals show no change in shape or size. Ketoconazole decreases cortisol in patients with Cushing's syndrome, and may prevent adrenal overgrowth. Steroid secretion in BMAH is inefficient as compared with normal adrenals or secreting tumours and can be controlled with low, well-tolerated doses of ketoconazole, as an alternative to surgery.

Learning points

  • Enlarged, macronodular adrenals are often incidentally found during the investigation of hypertension in patients harboring BMAH. Although laboratory findings include low ACTH and elevated cortisol, the majority of patients do not display cushingoid features.

  • Bilateral adrenalectomy, followed by life-long steroid replacement, is the usual treatment of this benign condition, and alternative medical therapy is sought. Therapy based on aberrant adrenal receptors gives disappointing results, and inhibitors of steroidogenesis are not always well tolerated.

  • However, ketoconazole at low, well-tolerated doses appeared appropriate to control adrenal steroid secretion indefinitely, while preventing adrenal overgrowth. This treatment probably constitutes the most convenient long-term alternative to surgery.

Open access

Satoru Sakihara, Kazunori Kageyama, Satoshi Yamagata, Ken Terui, Makoto Daimon and Toshihiro Suda

Summary

ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome includes Cushing's disease and ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS). The differential diagnosis of Cushing's disease from EAS in cases of ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome is a challenging problem. We report here a case of EAS with an unknown source of ACTH secretion. Extensive imaging procedures, involving computed tomography (neck to pelvis), pituitary magnetic resonance imaging, and whole-body 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography, failed to reveal the source of ACTH secretion. Intermittent administration of bromocriptine, a short-acting and nonselective dopamine agonist, has afforded adequate suppression of plasma ACTH and cortisol levels over the long term.

Learning points

  • Tumor excision is the primary treatment for EAS. However, when surgery is impossible, medical therapy is needed to treat hypercortisolism.

  • In cases where the source of ACTH secretion is unknown, inhibitors of steroidogenesis, such as metyrapone, mitotane, ketoconazole, and etomidate, are mostly used to suppress cortisol secretion.

  • Medications that suppress ACTH secretion are less effective, therefore less popular, as standard treatments.

  • In the present case, short-term treatment with dopamine agonists was effective for the long-term suppression of both ACTH and cortisol levels.