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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

Matthieu St-Jean, Jessica MacKenzie-Feder, Isabelle Bourdeau and André Lacroix

Summary

A 29-year-old G4A3 woman presented at 25 weeks of pregnancy with progressive signs of Cushing’s syndrome (CS), gestational diabetes requiring insulin and hypertension. A 3.4 × 3.3 cm right adrenal adenoma was identified during abdominal ultrasound imaging for nephrolithiasis. Investigation revealed elevated levels of plasma cortisol, 24 h urinary free cortisol (UFC) and late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC). Serum ACTH levels were not fully suppressed (4 and 5 pmol/L (N: 2–11)). One month post-partum, CS regressed, 24-h UFC had normalised while ACTH levels were now less than 2 pmol/L; however, dexamethasone failed to suppress cortisol levels. Tests performed in vivo 6 weeks post-partum to identify aberrant hormone receptors showed no cortisol stimulation by various tests (including 300 IU hLH i.v.) except after administration of 250 µg i.v. Cosyntropin 1–24. Right adrenalectomy demonstrated an adrenocortical adenoma and atrophy of adjacent cortex. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis of the adenoma revealed the presence of ACTH (MC2) receptor mRNA, while LHCG receptor mRNA was almost undetectable. This case reveals that CS exacerbation in the context of pregnancy can result from the placental-derived ACTH stimulation of MC2 receptors on the adrenocortical adenoma. Possible contribution of other placental-derived factors such as oestrogens, CRH or CRH-like peptides cannot be ruled out.

Learning points:

  • Diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy is complicated by several physiological alterations in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation occurring in normal pregnancy.

  • Cushing’s syndrome (CS) exacerbation during pregnancy can be associated with aberrant expression of LHCG receptor on primary adrenocortical tumour or hyperplasia in some cases, but not in this patient.

  • Placental-derived ACTH, which is not subject to glucocorticoid negative feedback, stimulated cortisol secretion from this adrenal adenoma causing transient CS exacerbation during pregnancy.

  • Following delivery and tumour removal, suppression of HPA axis can require several months to recover and requires glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

Open access

M J Trott, G Farah, V J Stokes, L M Wang and A B Grossman

Summary

We present a case of a young female patient with a rare cause of relapsing and remitting Cushing’s syndrome due to ectopic ACTH secretion from a thymic neuroendocrine tumour. A 34-year-old female presented with a constellation of symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome, including facial swelling, muscle weakness and cognitive impairment. We use the terms ‘relapsing and remitting’ in this case report, given the unpredictable time course of symptoms, which led to a delay of 2 years before the correct diagnosis of hypercortisolaemia. Diagnostic workup confirmed ectopic ACTH secretion, and a thymic mass was seen on mediastinal imaging. The patient subsequently underwent thymectomy with complete resolution of her symptoms. Several case series have documented the association of Cushing’s syndrome with thymic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs), although to our knowledge there are a few published cases of patients with relapsing and remitting symptoms. This case is also notable for the absence of features of the MEN-1 syndrome, along with the female gender of our patient and her history of non-smoking.

Learning points

  • Ectopic corticotrophin (ACTH) secretion should always be considered in the diagnostic workup of young patients with Cushing’s syndrome

  • There is a small but growing body of literature describing the correlation between ectopic ACTH secretion and thymic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs)

  • The possibility of a MEN-1 syndrome should be considered in all patients with thymic NETs, and we note the observational association with male gender and cigarette smoking in this cohort

  • An exception to these associations is the finding of relatively high incidence of thymic NETs among female non-smoking MEN-1 patients in the Japanese compared with Western populations

  • The relapsing and remitting course of our patient’s symptoms is noteworthy, given the paucity of this finding among other published cases

Open access

Ya-Wun Guo, Chii-Min Hwu, Justin Ging-Shing Won, Chia-Huei Chu and Liang-Yu Lin

Summary

A functional lesion in corticotrophin (ACTH)-independent Cushing’s syndrome is difficult to distinguish from lesions of bilateral adrenal masses. Methods for distinguishing these lesions include adrenal venous sampling and 131I-6β-iodomethyl-19-norcholesterol (131I-NP-59) scintigraphy. We present a case of a 29-year-old Han Chinese female patient with a history of hypercholesterolaemia and polycystic ovary syndrome. She presented with a 6month history of an 8kg body weight gain and gradual rounding of the face. Serial examinations revealed loss of circadian rhythm of cortisol, elevated urinary free-cortisol level and undetectable ACTH level (<5pg/mL). No suppression was observed in both the low- and high-dose dexamethasone suppression tests. Adrenal computed tomography revealed bilateral adrenal masses. Adrenal venous sampling was performed, and the right-to-left lateralisation ratio was 14.29. The finding from adrenal scintigraphy with NP-59 was consistent with right adrenal adenoma. The patient underwent laparoscopic right adrenalectomy, and the pathology report showed adrenocortical adenoma. Her postoperative cortisol level was 3.2μg/dL, and her Cushingoid appearance improved. In sum, both adrenal venous sampling and 131I-NP-59 scintigraphy are good diagnostic methods for Cushing’s syndrome presenting with bilateral adrenal masses.

Learning points

  • The clinical presentation of Cushing’ syndrome includes symptoms and signs of fat redistribution and protein-wasting features.

  • The diagnosis of patients with ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome with bilateral adrenal masses is challenging for localisation of the lesion.

  • Both adrenal venous sampling and 131I-NP-59 scintigraphy are good methods to use in these patients with Cushing’s syndrome presenting with bilateral adrenal masses.

Open access

Jerena Manoharan, Caroline L Lopez, Karl Hackmann, Max B Albers, Anika Pehl, Peter H Kann, Emily P Slater, Evelin Schröck and Detlef K Bartsch

Summary

We report about a young female who developed an unusual and an aggressive phenotype of the MEN1 syndrome characterized by the development of a pHPT, malignant non-functioning pancreatic and duodenal neuroendocrine neoplasias, a pituitary adenoma, a non-functioning adrenal adenoma and also a malignant jejunal NET at the age of 37 years. Initial Sanger sequencing could not detect a germline mutation of the MEN1 gene, but next generation sequencing and MPLA revealed a deletion of the MEN1 gene ranging between 7.6 and 25.9 kb. Small intestine neuroendocrine neoplasias (SI-NENs) are currently not considered to be a part of the phenotype of the MEN1-syndrome. In our patient the SI-NENs were detected during follow-up imaging on Ga68-Dotatoc PET/CT and could be completely resected. Although SI-NENs are extremely rare, these tumors should also be considered in MEN1 patients. Whether an aggressive phenotype or the occurrence of SI-NENs in MEN1 are more likely associated with large deletions of the gene warrants further investigation.

Learning points

  • Our patient presents an extraordinary course of disease.

  • Although SI-NENs are extremely rare, these tumors should also be considered in MEN1 patients, besides the typical MEN1 associated tumors.

  • This case reports indicate that in some cases conventional mutation analysis of MEN1 patients should be supplemented by the search for larger gene deletions with modern techniques, if no germline mutation could be identified by Sanger sequencing.

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.