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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

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

Bernardo Marques, Raquel G Martins, Guilherme Tralhão, Joana Couto, Sandra Saraiva, Henrique Ferrão, João Ribeiro, Jacinta Santos, Teresa Martins, Ana Teresa Cadime and Fernando Rodrigues

Summary

Gastric neuroendocrine neoplasms (GNENs) are classified into three types according to their aetiology. We present a clinical case of a female patient of 66 years and a well-differentiated (grade 2), type 3 GNEN with late liver metastasis (LM). The patient underwent surgical excision of a gastric lesion at 50 years of age, without any type of follow-up. Sixteen years later, she was found to have a neuroendocrine tumour (NET) metastatic to the liver. The histological review of the gastric lesion previously removed confirmed that it was a NET measuring 8 mm, pT1NxMx (Ki67 = 4%). 68Ga-DOTANOC PET/CT reported two LM and a possible pancreatic tumour/gastric adenopathy. Biopsies of the lesion were repeatedly inconclusive. She had a high chromogranin A, normal gastrin levels and negative anti-parietal cell and intrinsic factor antibodies, which is suggestive of type 3 GNEN. She underwent total gastrectomy and liver segmentectomies (segment IV and VII) with proven metastasis in two perigastric lymph nodes and both with hepatic lesions (Ki67 = 5%), yet no evidence of local recurrence. A 68Ga-DOTANOC PET/CT was performed 3 months after surgery, showing no tumour lesions and normalisation of CgA. Two years after surgery, the patient had no evidence of disease. This case illustrates a rare situation, being a type 3, well-differentiated (grade 2) GNEN, with late LM. Despite this, it was possible to perform surgery with curative intent, which is crucial in these cases, as systemic therapies have limited efficacy. We emphasise the need for extended follow-up in these patients.

Learning points:

  • GNENs have a very heterogeneous biological behaviour.

  • Clinical distinction between the three types of GNEN is essential to plan the correct management strategy.

  • LMs are rare and more common in type 3 and grade 3 GNEN.

  • Adequate follow-up is crucial for detection of disease recurrence.

  • Curative intent surgery is the optimal therapy for patients with limited and resectable LM, especially in well-differentiated tumours (grade 1 and 2).

Open access

Tiago Nunes da Silva, M L F van Velthuysen, Casper H J van Eijck, Jaap J Teunissen, J Hofland and Wouter W de Herder

Summary

Non-functional pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) can present with advanced local or distant (metastatic) disease limiting the possibility of surgical cure. Several treatment options have been used in experimental neoadjuvant settings to improve the outcomes in such cases. Peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PPRT) using beta emitting radiolabelled somatostatin analogues has been used in progressive pancreatic NETs. We report a 55-year-old female patient with a 12.8 cm pancreatic NET with significant local stomach and superior mesenteric vein compression and liver metastases. The patient underwent treatment with [177Lutetium-DOTA0,Tyr3]octreotate (177Lu-octreotate) for the treatment of local and metastatic symptomatic disease. Six months after 4 cycles of 177lutetium-octreotate, resolution of the abdominal complaints was associated with a significant reduction in tumour size and the tumour was rendered operable. Histology of the tumour showed a 90% necrotic tumour with abundant hyalinized fibrosis and haemorrhage compatible with PPRT-induced radiation effects on tumour cells. This report supports that PPRT has a role in unresectable and metastatic pancreatic NET.

Learning points:

  • PRRT with 177Lu-octreotate can be considered a useful therapy for symptomatic somatostatin receptor-positive pancreatic NET.

  • The clinical benefits of PRRT with 177Lu-octreotate can be seen in the first months while tumour reduction can be seen up to a year after treatment.

  • PRRT with 177Lu-octreotate was clinically well tolerated and did not interfere with the subsequent surgical procedure.

  • PRRT with 177Lu-octreotate can result in significant tumour reduction and may improve surgical outcomes. As such, this therapy can be considered as a neoadjuvant therapy.

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

Raluca Maria Furnica, Julie Lelotte, Thierry Duprez, Dominique Maiter and Orsalia Alexopoulou

Summary

A 26-year-old woman presented with severe postpartum headaches. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed a symmetric, heterogeneous enlargement of the pituitary gland. Three months later, she developed central diabetes insipidus. A diagnosis of postpartum hypophysitis was suspected and corticosteroids were prescribed. Six months later, the pituitary mass showed further enlargement and characteristics of a necrotic abscess with a peripheral shell and infiltration of the hypothalamus. Transsphenoidal surgery was performed, disclosing a pus-filled cavity which was drained. No bacterial growth was observed, except a single positive blood culture for Staphylococcus aureus, considered at that time as a potential contaminant. A short antibiotic course was, however, administered together with hormonal substitution for panhypopituitarism. Four months after her discharge, severe headaches recurred. Pituitary MRI was suggestive of a persistent inflammatory mass of the sellar region. She underwent a new transsphenoidal resection of a residual abscess. At that time, the sellar aspiration fluid was positive for Staphylococcus aureus and she was treated with antibiotics for 6 weeks, after which she had complete resolution of her infection. The possibility of a pituitary abscess, although rare, should be kept in mind during evaluation for a necrotic inflammatory pituitary mass with severe headaches and hormonal deficiencies.

Learning points:

  • The possibility of a pituitary abscess, although rare, should be kept in mind during evaluation for a necrotic inflammatory pituitary mass with severe headaches and hormonal deficiencies.

  • In a significant proportion of cases no pathogenic organism can be isolated.

  • A close follow-up is necessary given the risk of recurrence and the high rate of postoperative pituitary deficiencies.

Open access

Run Yu, Danielle Sharaga, Christopher Donner, M Fernando Palma Diaz, Masha J Livhits and Michael W Yeh

Summary

Pheochromocytomatosis, a very rare form of pheochromocytoma recurrence, refers to new, multiple, and often small pheochromocytomas growing in and around the surgical resection bed of a previous adrenalectomy for a solitary pheochromocytoma. We here report a case of pheochromocytomatosis in a 70-year-old female. At age 64 years, she was diagnosed with a 6-cm right pheochromocytoma. She underwent laparoscopic right adrenalectomy, during which the tumor capsule was ruptured. At age 67 years, CT of abdomen did not detect recurrence. At age 69 years, she began experiencing episodes of headache and diaphoresis. At age 70 years, biochemical markers of pheochromocytoma became elevated with normal calcitonin level. CT revealed multiple nodules of various sizes in the right adrenal fossa, some of which were positive on metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scan. She underwent open resection of pheochromocytomatosis. Histological examination confirmed numerous pheochromocytomas ranging 0.1–1.2 cm in size. Next-generation sequencing of a panel of genes found a novel heterozygous germline c.570delC mutation in TMEM127, one of the genes that, if mutated, confers susceptibility to syndromic pheochromocytoma. Molecular analysis showed that the c.570delC mutation is likely pathogenic. Our case highlights the typical presentation of pheochromocytomatosis, a rare complication of adrenalectomy for pheochromocytoma. Previous cases and ours collectively demonstrate that tumor capsule rupture during adrenalectomy is a risk factor for pheochromocytomatosis. We also report a novel TMEM127 mutation in this case.

Learning points:

  • Pheochromocytomatosis is a very rare form of pheochromocytoma recurrence.

  • Pheochromocytomatosis refers to new, multiple and often small pheochromocytomas growing in and around the surgical resection bed of a previous adrenalectomy for a solitary pheochromocytoma.

  • Tumor capsule rupture during adrenalectomy predisposes a patient to develop pheochromocytomatosis.

  • Surgical resection of the multiple tumors of pheochromocytomatosis is recommended.

  • Pheochromocytoma recurrence should prompt genetic testing for syndromic pheochromocytoma.

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

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

Taiba Zornitzki, Hadara Rubinfeld, Lyudmila Lysyy, Tal Schiller, Véronique Raverot, Ilan Shimon and Hilla Knobler

Summary

Acromegaly due to ectopic GHRH secretion from a neuroendocrine tumor (NET) is rare and comprises <1% of all acromegaly cases. Herein we present a 57-year-old woman with clinical and biochemical features of acromegaly and a 6 cm pancreatic NET (pNET), secreting GHRH and calcitonin. Following surgical resection of the pancreatic tumor, IGF1, GH and calcitonin normalized, and the clinical features of acromegaly improved. In vitro studies confirmed that the tumor secreted large amounts of both GHRH and calcitonin, and incubation of pNET culture-derived conditioned media stimulated GH release from a cultured human pituitary adenoma. This is a unique case of pNET secreting both GHRH and calcitonin. The ability of the pNET-derived medium to stimulate in vitro GH release from a human pituitary-cell culture, combined with the clinical and hormonal remission following tumor resection, confirmed the ectopic source of acromegaly in this patient.

Learning points

  • Signs, symptoms and initial work-up of acromegaly due to ectopic GHRH secretion are similar to pituitary-dependent acromegaly. However, if no identifiable pituitary lesion is found, somatostatin receptor scan and further imaging (CT, MRI) should be performed.

  • Detection of GHRH in the blood and in the tumor-derived medium supports the diagnosis of ectopic GHRH secretion.

  • Functional bioactivity of pNET-secreted GHRH can be proved in vitro by releasing GH from human pituitary cells.