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Open access

Karen Decaestecker, Veerle Wijtvliet, Peter Coremans and Nike Van Doninck

Summary

ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism is caused by an ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) in 20% of cases. We report a rare cause of EAS in a 41-year-old woman, presenting with clinical features of Cushing’s syndrome which developed over several months. Biochemical tests revealed hypokalemic metabolic alkalosis and high morning cortisol and ACTH levels. Further testing, including 24-hour urine analysis, late-night saliva and low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, confirmed hypercortisolism. An MRI of the pituitary gland was normal. Inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS) revealed inconsistent results, with a raised basal gradient but no rise after CRH stimulation. Additional PET-CT showed intense metabolic activity in the left nasal vault. Biopsy of this lesion revealed an unsuspected cause of Cushing’s syndrome: an olfactory neuroblastoma (ONB) with positive immunostaining for ACTH. Our patient underwent transnasal resection of the tumour mass, followed by adjuvant radiotherapy. Normalisation of cortisol and ACTH levels was seen immediately after surgery. Hydrocortisone substitution was started to prevent withdrawal symptoms. As the hypothalamic–pituitary–axis slowly recovered, daily hydrocortisone doses were tapered and stopped 4 months after surgery. Clinical Cushing’s stigmata improved gradually.

Learning points:

  • Ectopic ACTH syndrome can originate from tumours outside the thoracoabdominal region, like the sinonasal cavity.

  • The diagnostic accuracy of IPSS is not 100%: both false positives and false negatives may occur and might be due to a sinonasal tumour with ectopic ACTH secretion.

  • Olfactory neuroblastoma (syn. esthesioneuroblastoma), named because of its sensory (olfactory) and neuroectodermal origin in the upper nasal cavity, is a rare malignant neoplasm. It should not be confused with neuroblastoma, a tumour of the sympathetic nervous system typically occurring in children.

  • If one criticises MRI of the pituitary gland because of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism, one should take a close look at the sinonasal field as well.

Open access

Harish Venugopal, Katherine Griffin and Saima Amer

Summary

Resection of primary tumour is the management of choice in patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome. However, tumours may remain unidentified or occult in spite of extensive efforts at trying to locate them. This can, therefore, pose a major management issue as uncontrolled hypercortisolaemia can lead to life-threatening infections. We present the case of a 66-year-old gentleman with ectopic ACTH syndrome from an occult primary tumour with multiple significant complications from hypercortisolaemia. Ectopic nature of his ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome was confirmed by non-suppression with high-dose dexamethasone suppression test and bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling. The primary ectopic source remained unidentified in spite of extensive anatomical and functional imaging studies, including CT scans and Dotatate-PET scan. Medical adrenolytic treatment at maximum tolerated doses failed to control his hypercortisolaemia, which led to recurrent intra-abdominal and pelvic abscesses, requiring multiple surgical interventions. Laparoscopic bilateral adrenalectomy was considered but decided against given concerns of technical difficulties due to recurrent intra-abdominal infections and his moribund state. Eventually, alcohol ablation of adrenal glands by retrograde adrenal vein approach was attempted, which resulted in biochemical remission of Cushing's syndrome. Our case emphasizes the importance of aggressive management of hypercortisolaemia in order to reduce the associated morbidity and mortality and also demonstrates that techniques like percutaneous adrenal ablation using a retrograde venous approach may be extremely helpful in patients who are otherwise unable to undergo bilateral adrenalectomy.

Learning points

  • Evaluation and management of patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome from an unidentified primary tumour can be very challenging.

  • Persisting hypercortisolaemia in this setting can lead to debilitating and even life-threatening complications and hence needs to be managed aggressively.

  • Bilateral adrenalectomy should be considered when medical treatment is ineffective or poorly tolerated.

  • Percutaneous adrenal ablation may be considered in patients who are otherwise unable to undergo bilateral adrenalectomy.