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Open access

Katta Sai, Amos Lal, Jhansi Lakshmi Maradana, Pruthvi Raj Velamala and Trivedi Nitin

Summary

Mifepristone is a promising option for the management of hypercortisolism associated with hyperglycemia. However, its use may result in serious electrolyte imbalances, especially during dose escalation. In our patient with adrenocorticotropic hormone-independent macro-nodular adrenal hyperplasia, unilateral adrenalectomy resulted in biochemical and clinical improvement, but subclinical hypercortisolism persisted following adrenalectomy. She was started on mifepristone. Unfortunately, she missed her follow-up appointments following dosage escalation and required hospitalization at an intensive care level for severe refractory hypokalemia.

Learning points:

  • Mifepristone, a potent antagonist of glucocorticoid receptors, has a high risk of adrenal insufficiency, despite high cortisol levels.
  • Mifepristone is associated with hypokalemia due to spill-over effect of cortisol on unopposed mineralocorticoid receptors.
  • Given the lack of a biochemical parameter to assess improvement, the dosing of mifepristone is based on clinical progress.
  • Patients on mifepristone require anticipation of toxicity, especially when the dose is escalated.
  • The half-life of mifepristone is 85 h, requiring prolonged monitoring for toxicity, even after the medication is held.
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.