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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

Miriam Hinaa Ahmad and Ismat Shafiq

Summary

We report a case of a 21-year-old African American female with history of pre-diabetes, and a diagnosis of a rare leukemia, blastic-plasmacytoid dendritic neoplasm (BPDCN), who developed diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) after the third dose of PEG-asparaginase infusion. She was successfully treated with insulin. Asparaginase is a vital part of treatment protocols for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in combination with other chemotherapeutic drugs. Asparaginase therapy has been reported to cause hyperglycemia especially when used in conjunction with glucocorticoids for the treatment of ALL in the pediatric population. Multiple mechanisms for hyperglycemia have been hypothesized which include decreased insulin secretion, impaired insulin receptor function and excess glucagon formation. Hyperglycemia is usually self-limiting but can deteriorate to diabetic ketoacidosis. DKA is a rare adverse effect with asparaginase therapy with an incidence rate of about 0.8%.

Learning points:

  • DKA is a rare finding following asparaginase therapy.

  • Hyperglycemia is most commonly seen with asparaginase treatment when used along with glucocorticoid.

  • Frequent blood glucose monitoring and prompt initiation of insulin treatment with hyperglycemia can prevent severe complications.

  • Patients and physician education on this complication can reduce morbidity due to DKA.

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

Carlos Tavares Bello, Emma van der Poest Clement and Richard Feelders

Summary

Cushing’s syndrome is a rare disease that results from prolonged exposure to supraphysiological levels of glucocorticoids. Severe and rapidly progressive cases are often, but not exclusively, attributable to ectopic ACTH secretion. Extreme hypercortisolism usually has florid metabolic consequences and is associated with an increased infectious and thrombotic risk. The authors report on a case of a 51-year-old male that presented with severe Cushing’s syndrome secondary to an ACTH-secreting pituitary macroadenoma, whose diagnostic workup was affected by concurrent subclinical multifocal pulmonary infectious nodules. The case is noteworthy for the atypically severe presentation of Cushing’s disease, and it should remind the clinician of the possible infectious and thrombotic complications associated with Cushing’s syndrome.

Learning points:

  • Severe Cushing’s syndrome is not always caused by ectopic ACTH secretion.

  • Hypercortisolism is a state of immunosuppression, being associated with an increased risk for opportunistic infections.

  • Infectious pulmonary infiltrates may lead to imaging diagnostic dilemmas when investigating a suspected ectopic ACTH secretion.

  • Cushing’s syndrome carries an increased thromboembolic risk that may even persist after successful surgical management.

  • Antibiotic and venous thromboembolism prophylaxis should be considered in every patient with severe Cushing’s syndrome.

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

Kazuyuki Oishi, Daisuke Takabatake and Yuichi Shibuya

Summary

We experienced a case of an 82-year-old woman who presented to our hospital with a 1-month history of dysphagia and dyspnea. Cervical contrast-enhanced computed tomography revealed diffuse thyroid neoplasms causing significant tracheal stenosis with tumors, particularly of the superior mediastinum, which were associated with an embolism of the brachiocephalic vein and suspected invasion to the bilateral common carotid arteries. Anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) was diagnosed by fine-needle aspiration; thus, emergency tracheostomy and gastrostomy were performed. We made a definitive diagnosis of ATC (T4bN0M0 Stage IVB) and initiated continuous lenvatinib administration at 24 mg/day. Although several adverse events occurred, the tumor size reduced remarkably over a short period. However, the patient died from rupture of the common carotid artery 30 days after treatment initiation. Here, we report our experience with lenvatinib therapy for ATC and include a literature review.

Learning points:

  • Lenvatinib is extremely effective for ATC.

  • Lenvatinib has a much greater cytoreductive effect than traditional therapies, but it needs dose reduction or withdrawal because of treatment-related side effects.

  • Lenvatinib may cause treatment-related carotid blowout syndrome, resulting in death for patients with invasion to the carotid artery.

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

Rowena Speak, Jackie Cook, Barney Harrison and John Newell-Price

Mutations of the rearranged during transfection (RET) proto-oncogene, located on chromosome 10q11.2, cause multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2A (MEN2A). Patients with mutations at the codon 609 usually exhibit a high penetrance of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), but a sufficiently low penetrance of phaeochromocytoma that screening for this latter complication has been called to question. Patients with other RET mutations are at higher risk of younger age onset phaeochromocytoma if they also possess other RET polymorphisms (L769L, S836S, G691S and S904S), but there are no similar data for patients with 609 mutations. We investigated the unusual phenotypic presentation in a family with MEN2A due to a C609Y mutation in RET. Sanger sequencing of the entire RET-coding region and exon–intron boundaries was performed. Five family members were C609Y mutation positive: 3/5 initially presented with phaeochromocytoma, but only 1/5 had MTC. The index case aged 73 years had no evidence of MTC, but presented with phaeochromocytoma. Family members also possessed the G691S and S904S RET polymorphisms. We illustrate a high penetrance of phaeochromocytoma and low penetrance of MTC in patients with a RET C609Y mutation and polymorphisms G691S and S904S. These data highlight the need for life-long screening for the complications of MEN2A in these patients and support the role for the screening of RET polymorphisms for the purposes of risk stratification.

Learning points:

  • C609Y RET mutations may be associated with a life-long risk of phaeochromocytoma indicating the importance of life-long screening for this condition in patients with MEN2A.

  • C609Y RET mutations may be associated with a lower risk of MTC than often quoted, questioning the need for early prophylactic thyroid surgery discussion at the age of 5 years.

  • There may be a role for the routine screening of RET polymorphisms, and this is greatly facilitated by the increasing ease of access to next-generation sequencing.

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.