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Open access

Wei Yang, David Pham, Aren T Vierra, Sarah Azam, Dorina Gui and John C Yoon

Summary

Ectopic ACTH-secreting pulmonary neuroendocrine tumors are rare and account for less than 5% of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome cases. We describe an unusual case of metastatic bronchial carcinoid tumor in a young woman presenting with unprovoked pulmonary emboli, which initially prevented the detection of the primary tumor on imaging. The source of ectopic ACTH was ultimately localized by a Gallium-DOTATATE scan, which demonstrated increased tracer uptake in a right middle lobe lung nodule and multiple liver nodules. The histological diagnosis was established based on a core biopsy of a hepatic lesion and the patient was started on a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist and a somatostatin analog. This case illustrates that hypercogulability can further aggravate the diagnostic challenges in ectopic ACTH syndrome. We discuss the literature on the current diagnosis and management strategies for ectopic ACTH syndrome.

Learning points:

  • In a young patient with concurrent hypokalemia and uncontrolled hypertension on multiple antihypertensive agents, secondary causes of hypertension should be evaluated.

  • Patients with Cushing’s syndrome can develop an acquired hypercoagulable state leading to spontaneous and postoperative venous thromboembolism.

  • Pulmonary emboli may complicate the imaging of the bronchial carcinoid tumor in ectopic ACTH syndrome.

  • Imaging with Gallium-68 DOTATATE PET/CT scan has the highest sensitivity and specificity in detecting ectopic ACTH-secreting tumors.

  • A combination of various noninvasive biochemical tests can enhance the diagnostic accuracy in differentiating Cushing’s disease from ectopic ACTH syndrome provided they have concordant results. Bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling remains the gold standard.

Open access

Ana Gonçalves Ferreira, Tiago Nunes da Silva, Sofia Alegria, Maria Carlos Cordeiro and Jorge Portugal

Summary

Pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma (PPGL) are neuroendocrine tumors that can secrete catecholamines. The authors describe a challenging case who presented as stress cardiomyopathy and myocardial infarction (MI). A 76-year-old man, with a medical history of Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, dyslipidaemia and a previous inferior MI in 2001, presented to the emergency department due to chest pain, headaches and vomiting. He also reported worsening blood glucose levels and increasing constipation over the preceding weeks. BP was 185/89 mmHg (no other relevant findings). EKG had ST segment depression in leads V2-V6, T troponin was 600 ng/L (<14) and the echocardiogram showed left ventricular hypokinesia with mildly compromised systolic function. Nevertheless, he rapidly progressed to severe biventricular dysfunction. Coronary angiogram showed a 90% anterior descendent coronary artery occlusion (already present in 2001), which was treated with angioplasty/stenting. In the following days, a very labile BP profile and unexplained sinus tachycardia episodes were observed. Because of sustained severe constipation, the patient underwent an abdominal CT that revealed a retroperitoneal, heterogeneous, hypervascular mass on the right (62 × 35 mm), most likely a paraganglioma. Urinary metanephrines were increased several fold. 68Ga-DOTANOC PET-CT scan showed increased uptake in the abdominal mass (no evidence of disease elsewhere). He was started on a calcium-channel blocker and alpha blockade and underwent surgery with no major complications. Eight months after surgery, the patient has no evidence of disease. Genetic testing was negative for known germline mutations. This was a challenging diagnosis, but it was essential for adequate cardiovascular stabilization and to reduce further morbidity.

Learning points:

  • PPGL frequently produces catecholamines and can manifest with several cardiovascular syndromes, including stress cardiomyopathy and myocardial infarction.

  • Even in the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD), PPGL should be suspected if signs or symptoms attributed to catecholamine excess are present (in this case, high blood pressure, worsening hyperglycaemia and constipation).

  • Establishing the correct diagnosis is important for adequate treatment choice.

  • Inodilators and mechanical support might be preferable options (if available) for cardiovascular stabilization prior to alpha blockade and surgery.

  • Laboratory interference should be suspected irrespective of metanephrine levels, especially in the context of treated Parkinson’s disease.

Open access

Lima Lawrence, Peng Zhang, Humberto Choi, Usman Ahmad, Valeria Arrossi, Andrei Purysko and Vinni Makin

Summary

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production leading to ectopic ACTH syndrome accounts for a small proportion of all Cushing’s syndrome (CS) cases. Thymic neuroendocrine tumors are rare neoplasms that may secrete ACTH leading to rapid development of hypercortisolism causing electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and an increased risk for opportunistic infections. We present a unique case of a patient who presented with a mediastinal mass, revealed to be an ACTH-secreting thymic neuroendocrine tumor (NET) causing ectopic CS. As the diagnosis of CS from ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) remains challenging, we emphasize the necessity for high clinical suspicion in the appropriate setting, concordance between biochemical, imaging and pathology findings, along with continued vigilant monitoring for recurrence after definitive treatment.

Learning points:

  • Functional thymic neuroendocrine tumors are exceedingly rare.

  • Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome secondary to thymic neuroendocrine tumors secreting ACTH present with features of hypercortisolism including electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and hyperglycemia, and opportunistic infections.

  • The ability to undergo surgery and completeness of resection are the strongest prognostic factors for improved overall survival; however, the recurrence rate remains high.

  • A high degree of initial clinical suspicion followed by vigilant monitoring is required for patients with this challenging disease.

Open access

Seong Keat Cheah, David Halsall, Peter Barker, John Grant, Abraham Mathews, Shyam Seshadri and Singhan Krishnan

Summary

A frail 79-year-old lady with dementia presented with a 2-year history of frequent falls. Recurrent hypoglycaemic episodes were diagnosed and treated with continuous glucose infusion in multiple hospital admissions. Hypoadrenalism and hypothyroidism were ruled out. Whilst hypoglycaemic (blood glucose 1.6 mmol/L), both plasma C-peptide and proinsulin concentrations, were inappropriately elevated at 4210 pmol/L (174–960) and >200 pmol/L (0–7) respectively with plasma insulin suppressed at 12 pmol/L (0–180). Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma are typically pancreatic in origin, radiological investigations of the pancreas in this patient did not identify abnormalities. Unexpectedly contrast CT identified a heterogeneously enhancing mass (6.6 cm) at the lower pole of the left kidney consistent with renal cell carcinoma. Non-islet cell tumour-induced hypoglycaemia has been associated with renal malignancy; however, a serum IGF2:IGF1 ratio measured at <10 effectively excludes this diagnosis. Concomitantly on the CT, extensive peripherally enhancing heterogeneous mass lesions in the liver were identified, the largest measuring 12 cm. A palliative approach was taken due to multiple comorbidities. On post-mortem, the kidney lesion was confirmed as clear cell renal carcinoma, whilst the liver lesions were identified as proinsulin-secreting neuroendocrine tumours. In conclusion, the diagnosis of proinsulinoma can be missed if plasma proinsulin concentration is not measured at the time of hypoglycaemia. In this case, the plasma insulin:C-peptide ratio was too high to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin and was due to proinsulin cross-reactivity in the C-peptide assay. In addition, the concomitant malignancy proved to be a challenging red herring.

Learning points:

  • Even in non-diabetics, hypoglycaemia needs to be excluded in a setting of frequent falls. Insulin- or proinsulin-secreting tumours are potentially curable causes.

  • Whilst investigating spontaneous hypoglycaemia, if plasma insulin concentration is appropriate for the hypoglycaemia, it is prudent to check proinsulin concentrations during the hypoglycaemic episode.

  • Proinsulin cross-reacts variably with C-peptide and insulin assays; the effect is method dependent. In this case, the discrepancy between the insulin and C-peptide concentrations was too great to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin, raising the suspicion of assay interference. The C-peptide assay in question (Diasorin liaison) has been shown to be 100% cross reactive with proinsulin based on spiking studies with a proinsulin reference preparation.

  • Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma and 99% of insulinomas are of pancreatic origin, conventional imaging studies (CT, MRI or ultrasound) fail to detect neuroendocrine tumours <1 cm in 50% of cases.

  • The concomitant renal mass identified radiologically proved to be a red herring.

  • In view of the rarity of proinsulinoma, no conclusive association with renal cell carcinoma can be established.

Open access

Chad Bisambar, Andrew Collier, Fraser Duthie and Carron Meney

Summary

A 40-year-old Caucasian female presented with hyperglycaemia, polyuria, polydipsia and weight loss of 6 kg over a 1-month period. There was no personal or family history of malignancy or diabetes mellitus. On examination, she was jaundiced with pale mucous membranes and capillary glucose was 23.1 mmol/L. Initial investigations showed iron deficiency anaemia and obstructive pattern of liver function tests. HbA1c was diagnostic of diabetes mellitus at 79 mmol/mol. Malignancy was suspected and CT chest, abdomen and pelvis showed significant dilatation of intra- and extra-hepatic biliary tree including pancreatic duct, with periampullary 30 mm mass lesion projecting into lumen of duodenum. Enlarged nodes were seen around the superior mesenteric artery. This was confirmed on MRI liver. Fasting gut hormones were normal except for a mildly elevated somatostatin level. Chromogranin A was elevated at 78 pmol/L with normal chromogranin B. Duodenoscopy and biopsy showed possible tubovillous adenoma with low-grade dysplasia, but subsequent endoscopic ultrasound and biopsy revealed a grade 1, well differentiated neuroendocrine tumour. The patient was started on insulin, transfused to Hb >8 g/dL and Whipple’s pancreatico-duodenectomy was undertaken. This showed a well-differentiated neuroendocrine carcinoma arising in duodenum (Grade G1 with Ki67: 0.5%), with areas of chronic pancreatitis and preservation of pancreatic islet cells. There was complete resolution of diabetes post Whipple’s procedure and patient was able to come of insulin treatment. Her last HBA1C was 31 mmol/mol, 4 months post tumour resection.

Learning points:

  • Diabetes mellitus and malignancy can be related.

  • A high index of suspicion is needed when diabetes mellitus presents atypically.

  • Non-functional neuroendocrine tumours can present with diabetes mellitus.

Open access

Adriana de Sousa Lages, Isabel Paiva, Patrícia Oliveira, Francisco Portela and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Insulinomas are the most frequent cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia. Although surgical enucleation is the standard treatment, a few other options are available to high-risk patients who are elderly or present with co-morbidities. We present a case report of an 89-year-old female patient who was admitted to the emergency department due to recurrent hypoglycaemia, especially during fasting. Laboratory work-up raised the suspicion of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia, and abdominal CT scan revealed a 12 mm nodular hypervascular lesion of the pancreatic body suggestive of neuroendocrine tumour. The patient was not considered a suitable candidate for surgery, and medical therapy with diazoxide was poorly tolerated. Endoscopic ultrasound-guided ethanol ablation therapy was performed and a total of 0.6 mL of 95% ethanol was injected into the lesion by a transgastric approach; no complications were reported after the procedure. At 5 months of follow-up, no episodes of hypoglycaemia were reported, no diazoxide therapy was necessary, and revaluation abdominal CT scan revealed a pancreatic nodular lesion with a size involution of about half of its original volume. The patient is regularly followed-up at the endocrinology clinic and shows a significant improvement in her wellbeing and quality of life.

Learning points:

  • Insulinomas are the most frequent cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia.

  • Surgical enucleation is the standard treatment with a few other options available to high-risk patients.

  • Endoscopic ultrasound-guided ethanol ablation therapy is one feasible option in high-risk patients with satisfactory clinical outcomes, significant positive impact on quality of life and low complication rates related to the procedure.

Open access

Marta Guimarães, Pedro Rodrigues, Sofia S Pereira, Mário Nora, Gil Gonçalves, Nicolai Wewer Albrechtsen, Bolette Hartmann, Jens Juul Holst and Mariana P Monteiro

Summary

Post-prandial hypoglycemia is frequently found after bariatric surgery. Although rare, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pNET), which occasionally are mixed hormone secreting, can lead to atypical clinical manifestations, including reactive hypoglycemia. Two years after gastric bypass surgery for the treatment of severe obesity, a 54-year-old female with previous type 2 diabetes, developed post-prandial sweating, fainting and hypoglycemic episodes, which eventually led to the finding by ultrasound of a 1.8-cm solid mass in the pancreatic head. The 72-h fast test and the plasma chromogranin A levels were normal but octreotide scintigraphy showed a single focus of abnormal radiotracer uptake at the site of the nodule. There were no other clinical signs of hormone secreting pNET and gastrointestinal hormone measurements were not performed. The patient underwent surgical enucleation with complete remission of the hypoglycemic episodes. Histopathology revealed a well-differentiated neuroendocrine carcinoma with low-grade malignancy with positive chromogranin A and glucagon immunostaining. An extract of the resected tumor contained a high concentration of glucagon (26.707 pmol/g tissue), in addition to traces of GLP1 (471 pmol/g), insulin (139 pmol/g) and somatostatin (23 pmol/g). This is the first report of a GLP1 and glucagon co-secreting pNET presenting as hypoglycemia after gastric bypass surgery. Although pNET are rare, they should be considered in the differential diagnosis of the clinical approach to the post-bariatric surgery hypoglycemia patient.

Learning points

  • pNETs can be multihormonal-secreting, leading to atypical clinical manifestations.

  • Reactive hypoglycemic episodes are frequent after gastric bypass.

  • pNETs should be considered in the differential diagnosis of hypoglycemia after bariatric surgery.

Open access

Sally K Abell, Jessie Teng, Anthony Dowling, Michael S Hofman, Richard J MacIsaac and Nirupa Sachithanandan

Summary

This paper details the case of a 77-year-old male with refractory hypoglycaemia due to inoperable metastatic pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour (pNET) co-secreting insulin and gastrin. Multiple medical therapies were trialled with limited success, and we describe the complications experienced by our patient. Somatostatin analogues can ameliorate hypoglycaemia and may have tumour-stabilising effects; however, in our case resulted in paradoxical worsening of hypoglycaemia. This rendered our patient hospital dependent for glycaemic support including continuous dextrose infusion. Although this is a reported adverse effect with initiation of therapy, we describe successful initiation of short-acting octreotide as an inpatient followed by commencement of long-acting octreotide. Hypoglycaemic collapse occurred only after dose titration of long-acting octreotide. We outline the pitfalls of somatostatin analogue therapy and the mechanisms that may contribute to worsening hypoglycaemia. This rare side effect cannot be reliably predicted, necessitating close supervision and glucose monitoring during therapy. Our patient achieved disease stabilisation and gradual resolution of hypoglycaemia with peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT), an emerging therapeutic option for metastatic neuroendocrine tumours with high efficacy and low toxicity. We present a brief but comprehensive discussion of currently available and novel therapies for insulin secreting pNETs.

Learning points

  • Hypoglycaemia due to malignant insulin secreting pNET is frequently severe and may be life-threatening despite supportive therapies.

  • Octreotide can ameliorate hypoglycaemia, and may have anti-proliferative and tumour-stabilising effects in malignant pNETs that are surgically unresectable.

  • Paradoxical worsening of hypoglycaemia may occur with octreotide initiation and dose titration, necessitating close supervision and glucose monitoring.

  • PRRT is emerging as a therapeutic option with high efficacy and low toxicity.

Open access

S Solomou, R Khan, D Propper, D Berney and M Druce

Summary

A 33-year-old male was diagnosed with a metastatic neuroendocrine carcinoma of uncertain primary. He defaulted from follow-up without therapy and some months later developed episodic severe hypoglycaemia, which was found to be associated with inappropriately elevated insulin and C-peptide levels. It was considered likely that the neuroendocrine tumour was the source of the insulin secretion. Diazoxide and somatostatin analogue were used to control hypoglycaemia. Much later in the course of the disease, he developed metabolic derangement, increased skin pigmentation and psychological disturbance, without frankly Cushingoid physical findings. Investigations revealed highly elevated cortisol levels (the levels having previously been normal) with markedly raised ACTH levels, consistent with the co-secretion of ACTH and insulin by the tumour. Treatment with metyrapone improved his psychological state and electrolyte imbalance. Unfortunately, despite several cycles of first-, second- and third-line chemotherapy from the start of the first hormonal presentation onwards, imaging revealed widespread progressive metastatic disease and the patient eventually passed away. This case highlights the importance of keeping in mind the biochemical heterogeneity of endocrine tumours during their treatment.

Learning points

  • The clinical presentation of insulin-secreting tumours includes symptoms of neuroglycopaenia and sympathetic overstimulation.

  • Tumour-associated hypoglycaemia can be due to pancreatic insulinomas, and although ectopic hormone production occurs in a number of tumours, ectopic secretion of insulin is rare.

  • A possible switch in the type of hormone produced can occur during the growth and progression of neuroendocrine tumours and, when treating neuroendocrine tumours, it is important to keep in mind their biochemical heterogeneity.