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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

Wei Yang, David Pham, Aren T Vierra, Sarah Azam, Dorina Gui and John C Yoon

Summary

Ectopic ACTH-secreting pulmonary neuroendocrine tumors are rare and account for less than 5% of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome cases. We describe an unusual case of metastatic bronchial carcinoid tumor in a young woman presenting with unprovoked pulmonary emboli, which initially prevented the detection of the primary tumor on imaging. The source of ectopic ACTH was ultimately localized by a Gallium-DOTATATE scan, which demonstrated increased tracer uptake in a right middle lobe lung nodule and multiple liver nodules. The histological diagnosis was established based on a core biopsy of a hepatic lesion and the patient was started on a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist and a somatostatin analog. This case illustrates that hypercogulability can further aggravate the diagnostic challenges in ectopic ACTH syndrome. We discuss the literature on the current diagnosis and management strategies for ectopic ACTH syndrome.

Learning points:

  • In a young patient with concurrent hypokalemia and uncontrolled hypertension on multiple antihypertensive agents, secondary causes of hypertension should be evaluated.

  • Patients with Cushing’s syndrome can develop an acquired hypercoagulable state leading to spontaneous and postoperative venous thromboembolism.

  • Pulmonary emboli may complicate the imaging of the bronchial carcinoid tumor in ectopic ACTH syndrome.

  • Imaging with Gallium-68 DOTATATE PET/CT scan has the highest sensitivity and specificity in detecting ectopic ACTH-secreting tumors.

  • A combination of various noninvasive biochemical tests can enhance the diagnostic accuracy in differentiating Cushing’s disease from ectopic ACTH syndrome provided they have concordant results. Bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling remains the gold standard.

Open access

Lima Lawrence, Peng Zhang, Humberto Choi, Usman Ahmad, Valeria Arrossi, Andrei Purysko and Vinni Makin

Summary

Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production leading to ectopic ACTH syndrome accounts for a small proportion of all Cushing’s syndrome (CS) cases. Thymic neuroendocrine tumors are rare neoplasms that may secrete ACTH leading to rapid development of hypercortisolism causing electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and an increased risk for opportunistic infections. We present a unique case of a patient who presented with a mediastinal mass, revealed to be an ACTH-secreting thymic neuroendocrine tumor (NET) causing ectopic CS. As the diagnosis of CS from ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) remains challenging, we emphasize the necessity for high clinical suspicion in the appropriate setting, concordance between biochemical, imaging and pathology findings, along with continued vigilant monitoring for recurrence after definitive treatment.

Learning points:

  • Functional thymic neuroendocrine tumors are exceedingly rare.

  • Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome secondary to thymic neuroendocrine tumors secreting ACTH present with features of hypercortisolism including electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities, uncontrolled hypertension and hyperglycemia, and opportunistic infections.

  • The ability to undergo surgery and completeness of resection are the strongest prognostic factors for improved overall survival; however, the recurrence rate remains high.

  • A high degree of initial clinical suspicion followed by vigilant monitoring is required for patients with this challenging disease.

Open access

Regina Streuli, Ina Krull, Michael Brändle, Walter Kolb, Günter Stalla, Marily Theodoropoulou, Annette Enzler-Tschudy and Stefan Bilz

Summary

Ectopic ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumors are a very rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome and only a few cases have been reported in the literature. Differentiating between Cushing’s disease and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome may be particularly difficult if predominant ectopic CRH secretion leads to pituitary corticotroph hyperplasia that may mimic Cushing’s disease during dynamic testing with both dexamethasone and CRH as well as bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BIPSS). We present the case of a 24-year-old man diagnosed with ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome caused by an ACTH/CRH co-secreting midgut NET. Both high-dose dexamethasone testing and BIPSS suggested Cushing’s disease. However, the clinical presentation with a rather rapid onset of cushingoid features, hyperpigmentation and hypokalemia led to the consideration of ectopic ACTH/CRH-secretion and prompted a further workup. Computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen revealed a cecal mass which was identified as a predominantly CRH-secreting neuroendocrine tumor. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first reported case of an ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumor of the cecum presenting with biochemical features suggestive of Cushing’s disease.

Learning points:

  • The discrimination between a Cushing’s disease and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome is challenging and has many caveats.

  • Ectopic ACTH/CRH co-secreting tumors are very rare.

  • Dynamic tests as well as BIPSS may be compatible with Cushing’s disease in ectopic CRH-secretion.

  • High levels of CRH may induce hyperplasia of the corticotroph cells in the pituitary. This could be the cause of a preserved pituitary response to dexamethasone and CRH.

  • Clinical features of ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism with rapid development of Cushing’s syndrome, hyperpigmentation, high circulating levels of cortisol with associated hypokalemia, peripheral edema and proximal myopathy should be a warning flag of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome and lead to further investigations.

Open access

Alessandro Mantovani, Fabrizia Perrone, Vincenzo Stoico, Isabella Pichiri, Laura Salvotelli, Ilaria Teobaldi, Massimiliano Bruti, Michela Conti, Luca Cima, Albino Eccher and Enzo Bonora

Summary

The incidences of type 2 diabetes mellitus and many cancers are rapidly increasing worldwide. Diabetes is a strong risk factor for some cancers (including lymphomas) and is also associated with adverse cancer outcomes. After gastrointestinal tract, the skin is the second most frequent extranodal site involved by non-Hodgkin lymphomas and the cutaneous B-cell lymphomas (CBCLs) range from 25% to 30% of all primary cutaneous lymphomas. The primary cutaneous diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (PCDLBCL) is an aggressive lymphoma with a poor prognosis, representing roughly 20% of all primary CBCLs. Classically, the cutaneous manifestation of this lymphoma is a red or violaceous tumors arising on a leg. To date, despite the large body of evidence suggesting that diabetes is strongly associated with an increased risk of some cancers, very little information is available regarding a possible association between type 2 diabetes and primary cutaneous diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. In this report, we will present the case of a white adult patient with type 2 diabetes with chronic leg ulcers complicated by a primary cutaneous diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Learning points:

  • Diabetes mellitus is increasing worldwide as well as the incidence of many cancers.

  • Diabetes mellitus is a powerful risk factor for some cancers (including lymphomas) and is strongly associated with adverse cancer outcomes.

  • Seen that diabetes is strongly associated with an increased risk of cancers (including cutaneous lymphomas), clinicians should always keep in mind this complication in elderly patients with type 2 diabetes, even in a chronic leg ulcer with hypertrophy of the wound edge, which is hard to heal and does not have the typical characteristics of a diabetic or vascular ulcer. In these cases, a biopsy should be performed to rule out a neoplasm.

  • Early diagnosis and correct management of cancer in a patient with type 2 diabetes are crucial to improve clinical outcomes.

Open access

Ayanthi A Wijewardene, Sarah J Glastras, Diana L Learoyd, Bruce G Robinson and Venessa H M Tsang

Summary

Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) is a rare neuroendocrine tumour that originates from the parafollicular cells of the thyroid gland. The most common presentation of MTC is with a single nodule; however, by the time of diagnosis, most have spread to the surrounding cervical lymph nodes. Cushing’s syndrome is a rare complication of MTC and is due to ectopic adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) secretion by tumour cells. Cushing’s syndrome presents a challenging diagnostic and management issue in patients with MTC. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) previously used for the management of metastatic MTC have become an important therapeutic option for the management of ectopic ACTH in metastatic MTC. The article describes three cases of ectopic ACTH secretion in MTC and addresses the significant diagnostic and management challenges related to Cushing’s syndrome in metastatic MTC.

Learning points:

  • Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) is a rare neuroendocrine tumour.

  • Cushing’s syndrome is a rare complication of MTC that has a significant impact on patients’ morbidity and mortality.

  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) provide an important therapeutic option for the management of ectopic ACTH in metastatic MTC.

Open access

Katia Regina Marchetti, Maria Adelaide Albergaria Pereira, Arnaldo Lichtenstein and Edison Ferreira Paiva

Summary

Adrenacarcinomas are rare, and hypoglycemic syndrome resulting from the secretion of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) by these tumors have been described infrequently. This study describes the case of a young woman with severe persistent hypoglycemia and a large adrenal tumor and discusses the physiopathological mechanisms involved in hypoglycemia. The case is described as a 21-year-old woman who presented with 8 months of general symptoms and, in the preceding 3 months, with episodes of mental confusion and visual blurring secondary to hypoglycemia. A functional assessment of the adrenal cortex revealed ACTH-independent hypercortisolism and hyperandrogenism. Hypoglycemia, hypoinsulinemia, low C-peptide and no ketones were also detected. An evaluation of the GH–IGF axis revealed GH blockade (0.03; reference: up to 4.4 ng/mL), greatly reduced IGF-I levels (9.0 ng/mL; reference: 180–780 ng/mL), slightly reduced IGF-II levels (197 ng/mL; reference: 267–616 ng/mL) and an elevated IGF-II/IGF-I ratio (21.9; reference: ~3). CT scan revealed a large expansive mass in the right adrenal gland and pulmonary and liver metastases. During hospitalization, the patient experienced frequent difficult-to-control hypoglycemia and hypokalemia episodes. Octreotide was ineffective in controlling hypoglycemia. Due to unresectability, chemotherapy was tried, but after 3 months, the patient’s condition worsened and progressed to death. In conclusion, our patient presented with a functional adrenal cortical carcinoma, with hyperandrogenism associated with hypoinsulinemic hypoglycemia and blockage of the GH–IGF-I axis. Patient’s data suggested a diagnosis of hypoglycemia induced by an IGF-II or a large IGF-II-producing tumor (low levels of GH, greatly decreased IGF-I, slightly decreased IGF-II and an elevated IGF-II/IGF-I ratio).

Learning points:

  • Hypoglycemyndrome resulting from the secretion of insulin-like growth factor II (IGF-II) by adrenal tumors is a rare condition.

  • Hypoinsulinemic hypoglycemia associated with hyperandrogenism and blockage of the GH–IGF-I axis suggests hypoglycemia induced by an IGF-II or a large IGF-II-producing tumor.

  • Hypoglycemia in cases of NICTH should be treated with glucocorticoids, glucagon, somatostatin analogs and hGH.

Open access

Ekaterina Manuylova, Laura M Calvi, Catherine Hastings, G Edward Vates, Mahlon D Johnson, William T Cave Jr and Ismat Shafiq

Summary

Co-secretion of growth hormone (GH) and prolactin (PRL) from a single pituitary adenoma is common. In fact, up to 25% of patients with acromegaly may have PRL co-secretion. The prevalence of acromegaly among patients with a newly diagnosed prolactinoma is unknown. Given the possibility of mixed GH and PRL co-secretion, the current recommendation is to obtain an insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in patients with prolactinoma at the initial diagnosis. Long-term follow-up of IGF-1 is not routinely done. Here, we report two cases of well-controlled prolactinoma on dopamine agonists with the development of acromegaly 10–20 years after the initial diagnoses. In both patients, a mixed PRL/GH-cosecreting adenoma was confirmed on the pathology examination after transsphenoidal surgery (TSS). Therefore, periodic routine measurements of IGF-1 should be considered regardless of the duration and biochemical control of prolactinoma.

Learning points:

  • Acromegaly can develop in patients with well-controlled prolactinoma on dopamine agonists.

  • The interval between prolactinoma and acromegaly diagnoses can be several decades.

  • Periodic screening of patients with prolactinoma for growth hormone excess should be considered and can 
lead to an early diagnosis of acromegaly before the development of complications.

Open access

Rémi Goupil, Martin Wolley, Jacobus Ungerer, Brett McWhinney, Kuniaki Mukai, Mitsuhide Naruse, Richard D Gordon and Michael Stowasser

Summary

In patients with primary aldosteronism (PA) undergoing adrenal venous sampling (AVS), cortisol levels are measured to assess lateralization of aldosterone overproduction. Concomitant adrenal autonomous cortisol and aldosterone secretion therefore have the potential to confound AVS results. We describe a case where metanephrine was measured during AVS to successfully circumvent this problem. A 55-year-old hypertensive male had raised plasma aldosterone/renin ratios and PA confirmed by fludrocortisone suppression testing. Failure of plasma cortisol to suppress overnight following dexamethasone and persistently suppressed corticotrophin were consistent with adrenal hypercortisolism. On AVS, comparison of adrenal and peripheral A/F ratios (left 5.7 vs peripheral 1.0; right 1.7 vs peripheral 1.1) suggested bilateral aldosterone production, with the left gland dominant but without contralateral suppression. However, using aldosterone/metanephrine ratios (left 9.7 vs peripheral 2.4; right 1.3 vs peripheral 2.5), aldosterone production lateralized to the left with good contralateral suppression. The patient underwent left laparoscopic adrenalectomy with peri-operative glucocorticoid supplementation to prevent adrenal insufficiency. Pathological examination revealed adrenal cortical adenomas producing both cortisol and aldosterone within a background of aldosterone-producing cell clusters. Hypertension improved and cured of PA and hypercortisolism were confirmed by negative post-operative fludrocortisone suppression and overnight 1 mg dexamethasone suppression testing. Routine dexamethasone suppression testing in patients with PA permits detection of concurrent hypercortisolism which can confound AVS results and cause unilateral PA to be misdiagnosed as bilateral with patients thereby denied potentially curative surgical treatment. In such patients, measurement of plasma metanephrine during AVS may overcome this issue.

Learning points

  • Simultaneous autonomous overproduction of cortisol and aldosterone is increasingly recognised although still apparently uncommon.

  • Because cortisol levels are used during AVS to correct for differences in dilution of adrenal with non-adrenal venous blood when assessing for lateralisation, unilateral cortisol overproduction with contralateral suppression could confound the interpretation of AVS results

  • Measuring plasma metanephrine during AVS to calculate lateralisation ratios may circumvent this problem.

Open access

Ravi Kumar Menon, Francesco Ferrau, Tom R Kurzawinski, Gill Rumsby, Alexander Freeman, Zahir Amin, Márta Korbonits and Teng-Teng L L Chung

Summary

Adrenal cortical carcinoma (ACC) has previously only been reported in eight patients with type 1 neurofibromatosis (NF1). There has not been any clear evidence of a causal association between NF1 gene mutations and adrenocortical malignancy development. We report the case of a 49-year-old female, with no family history of endocrinopathy, who was diagnosed with ACC on the background of NF1, due to a novel germline frame shift mutation (c.5452_5453delAT) in exon 37 of the NF1 gene. A left adrenal mass was detected by ultrasound and characterised by contrast computerised tomography (CT) scan. Biochemical tests showed mild hypercortisolism and androgen excess. A 24-h urinary steroid profile and 18flouro deoxy glucose PET suggested ACC. An open adrenalectomy was performed and histology confirmed ACC. This is the first reported case with DNA analysis, which demonstrated the loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at the NF1 locus in the adrenal cancer, supporting the hypothesis of an involvement of the NF1 gene in the pathogenesis of ACC. LOH analysis of the tumour suggests that the loss of neurofibromin in the adrenal cells may lead to tumour formation.

Learning points

  • ACC is rare but should be considered in a patient with NF1 and adrenal mass when plasma metanephrines are normal.

  • Urinary steroid metabolites and PET/CT are helpful in supporting evidence for ACC.

  • The LOH at the NF1 region of the adrenal tumour supports the role of loss of neurofibromin in the development of ACC.