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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

Shinobu Takayasu, Shingo Murasawa, Satoshi Yamagata, Kazunori Kageyama, Takeshi Nigawara, Yutaka Watanuki, Daisuke Kimura, Takao Tsushima, Yoshiyuki Sakamoto, Kenichi Hakamada, Ken Terui and Makoto Daimon

Summary

Patients with Cushing’s syndrome and excess exogenous glucocorticoids have an increased risk for venous thromboembolism, as well as arterial thrombi. The patients are at high risk of thromboembolic events, especially during active disease and even in cases of remission and after surgery in Cushing’s syndrome and withdrawal state in glucocorticoid users. We present a case of Cushing’s syndrome caused by adrenocorticotropic hormone-secreting lung carcinoid tumor. Our patient developed acute mesenteric ischemia after video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery despite administration of sufficient glucocorticoid and thromboprophylaxis in the perioperative period. In addition, our patient developed hepatic infarction after surgical resection of the intestine. Then, the patient was supported by total parenteral nutrition. Our case report highlights the risk of microthrombi, which occurred in our patient after treatment of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome. Guidelines on thromboprophylaxis and/or antiplatelet therapy for Cushing’s syndrome are acutely needed.

Learning points:

  • The present case showed acute mesenteric thromboembolism and hepatic infarction after treatment of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome.

  • Patients with Cushing’s syndrome are at increased risk for thromboembolic events and increased morbidity and mortality.

  • An increase in thromboembolic risk has been observed during active disease, even in cases of remission and postoperatively in Cushing’s syndrome.

  • Thromboprophylaxis and antiplatelet therapy should be considered in treatment of glucocorticoid excess or glucocorticoid withdrawal.

Open access

Hashem Bseiso, Naama Lev-Cohain, David J Gross and Simona Grozinsky-Glasberg

Summary

A 55-year-old woman diagnosed with sporadic MTC underwent total thyroidectomy 20 years ago. After the first surgery, elevated calcitonin levels in parallel with local disease persistence were noted and therefore she underwent repeated neck dissections. During follow-up, multiple foci of metastatic disease were noted in the neck and mediastinal lymph nodes, lungs and bones; however, the disease had an indolent course for a number of years, in parallel with a calcitonin doubling time of more than two years and without significant symptoms. During a routine follow-up visit 2 years ago, findings suggestive of Cushing’s syndrome were observed on physical examination. The biochemical evaluation demonstrated markedly elevated serum calcitonin level, in parallel with lack of cortisol suppression after an overnight 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test, lack of cortisol and ACTH suppression after high-dose IV dexamethasone 8 mg, elevated plasma ACTH up to 79 pg/mL (normal <46 pg/mL) and elevated 24-h urinary free cortisol up to 501 µg/24 h (normal 9–90 µg/24 h). After a negative pituitary MRI, she underwent IPSS, which was compatible with EAS. Whole-body CT demonstrated progressive disease at most of the tumor sites. Treatment with vandetanib at a dosage of 200 mg/day was commenced. The patient showed a significant, rapid and consistent clinical improvement already after two months of treatment, in parallel with biochemical improvement, whereas a decrease in tumor size was demonstrated on follow-up CT.

Learning points:

  • Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome due to ectopic ACTH secretion (EAS) by MTC is an uncommon and a poor prognostic event, being associated with significant morbidity and mortality.

  • We demonstrate that vandetanib is effective in controlling the signs and symptoms related to the EAS in patients with advanced progressive MTC.

  • We demonstrate that vandetanib is effective in decreasing tumor size and in inducing tumor control.

Open access

Kharis Burns, Darshika Christie-David and Jenny E Gunton

Summary

Ketoconazole was a first-line agent for suppressing steroidogenesis in Cushing's disease. It now has limited availability. Fluconazole, another azole antifungal, is an alternative, although its in vivo efficacy is unclear. A 61-year-old female presented with weight gain, abdominal striae and worsening depression. HbA1c increased to 76 mmol/mol despite increasing insulin. Investigations confirmed cortisol excess; afternoon serum cortisol was 552 nmol/l with an inappropriate ACTH of 9.3 pmol/l. In total, 24-h urinary free cortisol (UFC):creatinine ratio was 150 nmol/mmol with failure to suppress after 48 h of low-dose dexamethasone. Pituitary MRI revealed a 4-mm microadenoma. Inferior petrosal sinus sampling confirmed Cushing's disease. Transsphenoidal resection was performed and symptoms improved. However, disease recurred 6 months later with elevated 24-h UFC >2200 nmol/day. Metyrapone was commenced at 750 mg tds. Ketoconazole was later added at 400 mg daily, with dose reduction in metyrapone. When ketoconazole became unavailable, fluconazole 200 mg daily was substituted. Urine cortisol:creatinine ratio rose, and the dose was increased to 400 mg daily with normalisation of urine hormone levels. Serum cortisol and urine cortisol:creatinine ratios remain normal on this regimen at 6 months. In conclusion, to our knowledge, this is the first case demonstrating prolonged in vivo efficacy of fluconazole in combination with low-dose metyrapone for the treatment of Cushing's disease. Fluconazole has a more favourable toxicity profile, and we suggest that it is a potential alternative for medical management of Cushing's disease.

Learning points

  • Surgery remains first line for the management of Cushing's disease with pharmacotherapy used where surgery is unsuccessful or there is persistence of cortisol excess.

  • Ketoconazole has previously been used to treat cortisol excess through inhibition of CYP450 enzymes 11-β-hydroxylase and 17-α-hydroxylase, though its availability is limited in many countries.

  • Fluconazole shares similar properties to ketoconazole, although it has less associated toxicity.

  • Fluconazole represents a suitable alternative for the medical management of Cushing's disease and proved an effective addition to metyrapone in the management of this case.