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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

Christine Yu, Inder J Chopra and Edward Ha

Summary

Ipilimumab, a novel therapy for metastatic melanoma, inhibits cytotoxic T-lymphocyte apoptosis, causing both antitumor activity and significant autoimmunity, including autoimmune thyroiditis. Steroids are frequently used in treatment of immune-related adverse events; however, a concern regarding the property of steroids to reduce therapeutic antitumor response exists. This study describes the first reported case of ipilimumab-associated thyroid storm and implicates iopanoic acid as an alternative therapy for immune-mediated adverse effects. An 88-year-old woman with metastatic melanoma presented with fatigue, anorexia, decreased functional status, and intermittent diarrhea for several months, shortly after initiation of ipilimumab – a recombinant human monoclonal antibody to the cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 (CTLA4). On arrival, she was febrile, tachycardic, and hypertensive with a wide pulse pressure, yet non-toxic appearing. She had diffuse, non-tender thyromegaly. An electrocardiogram (EKG) revealed supraventricular tachycardia. Blood, urine, and stool cultures were collected, and empiric antibiotics were started. A computed tomography (CT) angiogram of the chest was negative for pulmonary embolism or pneumonia, but confirmed a diffusely enlarged thyroid gland, which prompted thyroid function testing. TSH was decreased at 0.16 μIU/ml (normal 0.3–4.7); free tri-iodothyronine (T3) was markedly elevated at 1031 pg/dl (normal 249–405), as was free thyroxine (T4) at 5.6 ng/dl (normal 0.8–1.6). With iopanoic acid and methimazole therapy, she markedly improved within 48 h, which could be attributed to lowering of serum T3 with iopanoic acid rather than to any effect of the methimazole. Ipilimumab is a cause of overt thyrotoxicosis and its immune-mediated adverse effects can be treated with iopanoic acid, a potent inhibitor of T4-to-T3 conversion.

Learning points

  • While ipilimumab more commonly causes autoimmune thyroiditis, it can also cause thyroid storm and clinicians should include thyroid storm in their differential diagnosis for patients who present with systemic inflammatory response syndrome.

  • Immune-related adverse reactions usually occur after 1–3 months of ipilimumab and baseline thyroid function testing should be completed before initiation with ipilimumab.

  • Conflicting data exist on the use of prednisone for treatment of CTLA4 adverse effects and its attenuation of ipilimumab's antitumor effect. Iopanoic acid may be considered as an alternative therapy in this setting.

Open access

Beverly T Rodrigues, Zulfiquer Otty, Kunwarjit Sangla and Vasant V Shenoy

Summary

Autoimmune hypophysitis (AH) has been previously described in a typical demographic population, primarily women in the reproductive age group and perinatal period. The era of immune modulation using anti-cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 biological therapy (ipilimumab) against advanced cancers like metastatic melanomas has now resulted in a new form of hypophysitis being increasingly recognised under a spectrum of immune-related adverse events. Drug-related AH often presents with subtle symptoms and a pituitary mass, with the potential for fatality necessitating wide awareness and a high index of clinical suspicion given that it is usually treatable. We describe below two cases of AH within the last three months at our centre, which were treated with different regimens and produced good endocrine outcomes.

Learning points

  • AH is a new and defined clinical entity occurring as a side effect of ipilimumab, which enhances immune-mediated destruction of metastatic melanoma.

  • It can present insidiously and have life-threatening complications related to hypocortisolism, hence a high index of clinical suspicion must be exerted by treating physicians, and seems to result in resolution of pituitary masses and variable improvements of pituitary function.

  • Clinical improvement, radiological resolution of pituitary masses and variable normalisation of pituitary function are possible with early treatment with high-dose oral or i.v. steroids and hormone replacement therapy, although duration and dosing protocols are unclear at this stage.

  • Ipilimumab should continue to be prescribed as treatment for metastatic melanoma; however, close clinical observation of patient's progress must be maintained while they are on this drug.

  • Predictive factors for onset of AH remain unclear and it is imperative that AH is distinguished from pituitary metastases.

  • Further studies are required to determine the safety of continuing therapy with ipilimumab in patients who have developed AH while on treatment.