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Mawson Wang Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Blacktown Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Blacktown Clinical School, School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia

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Benjamin Jonker Department of Neurosurgery, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia

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Louise Killen Department of Pathology, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia

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Yvonne Bogum NSW Health Pathology East, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, Australia

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Ann McCormack Department of Endocrinology, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia
St. Vincent’s Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, UNSW Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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Ramy H Bishay Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Blacktown Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Blacktown Clinical School, School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia

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Summary

Cushing’s disease is a rare disorder characterised by excessive cortisol production as a consequence of a corticotroph pituitary tumour. While the primary treatment is surgical resection, post-operative radiation therapy may be used in cases of ongoing inadequate hormonal control or residual or progressive structural disease. Despite improved outcomes, radiotherapy for pituitary tumours is associated with hypopituitarism, visual deficits and, rarely, secondary malignancies. We describe an unusual case of a 67-year-old female with presumed Cushing’s disease diagnosed at the age of 37, treated with transsphenoidal resection of a pituitary tumour with post-operative external beam radiotherapy (EBRT), ketoconazole for steroidogenesis inhibition, and finally bilateral adrenalectomy for refractory disease. She presented 30 years after her treatment with a witnessed generalised tonic-clonic seizure. Radiological investigations confirmed an extracranial mass infiltrating through the temporal bone and into brain parenchyma. Due to recurrent generalised seizures, the patient was intubated and commenced on dexamethasone and anti-epileptic therapy. Resection of the tumour revealed a high-grade osteoblastic osteosarcoma. Unfortunately, the patient deteriorated in intensive care and suffered a fatal cardiac arrest following a likely aspiration event. We describe the risk factors, prevalence and treatment of radiation-induced osteosarcoma, an exceedingly rare and late complication of pituitary irradiation. To our knowledge, this is the longest reported latency period between pituitary irradiation and the development of an osteosarcoma of the skull.

Learning points:

  • Cushing’s disease is treated with transsphenoidal resection as first-line therapy, with radiotherapy used in cases of incomplete resection, disease recurrence or persistent hypercortisolism.

  • The most common long-term adverse outcome of pituitary tumour irradiation is hypopituitarism occurring in 30–60% of patients at 10 years, and less commonly, vision loss and oculomotor nerve palsies, radiation-induced brain tumours and sarcomas.

  • Currently proposed characteristics of radiation-induced osteosarcomas include: the finding of a different histological type to the primary tumour, has developed within or adjacent to the path of the radiation beam, and a latency period of at least 3 years.

  • Treatment of osteosarcoma of the skull include complete surgical excision, followed by systemic chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.

  • Overall prognosis in radiation-induced sarcoma of bone is poor.

  • Newer techniques such as stereotactic radiosurgery may reduce the incidence of radiation-induced malignancies.

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Alessandro Rossini Endocrinology and Diabetes Unit, ASST Papa Giovanni XXIII, Bergamo, Italy

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Francesca Perticone Endocrine Unit, Department of Internal Medicine

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Laura Frosio Endocrine Unit, Department of Internal Medicine

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Marco Schiavo Lena Department of Pathology, San Raffaele Hospital, Milan, Italy

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Roberto Lanzi Endocrine Unit, Department of Internal Medicine

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Summary

ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma is a very rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome, with a high morbidity and mortality risk due to both cortisol and catecholamines excess. We report the case of a 45-year-old female patient with a 3 cm, high-density, left adrenal mass, diagnosed as an ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma. The biochemical sensitivity of the tumor to somatostatin analogues was tested by a 100 μg s.c. octreotide administration, which led to an ACTH and cortisol reduction of 50 and 25% respectively. In addition to alpha and beta blockers, preoperative approach to laparoscopic adrenalectomy included octreotide, a somatostatin analogue, together with ketoconazole, in order to achieve an adequate pre-surgical control of cortisol release. Histopathological assessment confirmed an ACTH-secreting pheochromocytoma expressing type 2 and 5 somatostatin receptors (SSTR-2 and -5).

Learning points:

  • ACTH-secreting pheochromocytomas represent a rare and severe condition, characterized by high morbidity and mortality risk.

  • Surgical removal of the adrenal mass is the gold standard treatment, but adequate medical therapy is required preoperatively to improve the surgical outcome and to avoid major complications.

  • Somatostatin analogs, in addition to other medications, may represent a useful therapeutic option for the presurgical management of selected patients.

  • In this sense, the octreotide challenge test is a useful tool to predict favorable therapeutic response to the treatment.

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Teresa M Canteros Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nuclear Medicine, Hospital Italinao de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Valeria De Miguel Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nuclear Medicine, Hospital Italinao de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Patricia Fainstein-Day Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nuclear Medicine, Hospital Italinao de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Summary

Severe Cushing syndrome (SCS) is considered an emergency that requires immediate treatment to lower serum cortisol levels. Fluconazole may be considered an alternative treatment in Cushing syndrome when ketoconazole is not tolerated or unavailable. We report a 39-year-old woman with a history of partial pancreaticoduodenectomy due to a periampullary neuroendocrine tumor with locoregional extension. Three years after surgery, she developed liver metastases and was started on 120 mg of lanreotide/month, despite which, liver metastases progressed in the following 6 months. The patient showed extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, delirium, moon face, hirsutism and severe proximal weakness. Laboratory tests showed anemia, hyperglycemia and severe hypokalemia. 24-h urinary free cortisol: 2152 nmol/day (reference range (RR): <276), morning serum cortisol 4883.4 nmol/L (RR: 138–690), ACTH 127.3 pmol/L (RR: 2.2–10). She was diagnosed with ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS). On admission, she presented with acute upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding and hemodynamic instability. Intravenous fluconazole 400 mg/day was started. After 48 h, her mental state improved and morning cortisol decreased by 25%. The dose was titrated to 600 mg/day which resulted in a 55% decrease in cortisol levels in 1 week, but then had to be decreased to 400 mg/day because transaminase levels increased over 3 times the upper normal level. After 18 days of treatment, hemodynamic stability, lower cortisol levels and better overall clinical status enabled successful bilateral adrenalectomy. This case report shows that intravenous fluconazole effectively decreased cortisol levels in SCS due to EAS.

Learning points:

  • Severe Cushing syndrome can be effectively treated with fluconazole to achieve a significant improvement of hypercortisolism prior to bilateral adrenalectomy.

  • Intravenous fluconazole is an alternative treatment when ketoconazole is not tolerated and etomidate is not available.

  • Fluconazole is well tolerated with mild side effects. Hepatotoxicity is usually mild and resolves after drug discontinuation.

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Lima Lawrence Departments of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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Peng Zhang Departments of Pulmonary Medicine & Critical Care, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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Humberto Choi Departments of Pulmonary Medicine & Critical Care, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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Usman Ahmad Departments of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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Valeria Arrossi Departments of Anatomic Pathology, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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Andrei Purysko Departments of Diagnostic Radiology, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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Vinni Makin Departments of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA

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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.

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Su Ann Tee Department of Endocrinology, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

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Earn Hui Gan Department of Endocrinology, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

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Mohamad Zaher Kanaan Departments of Ophthalmology, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

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David Ashley Price Departments of Infectious Disease and Tropical Medicine, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

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Tim Hoare Radiology, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

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Simon H S Pearce Department of Endocrinology, Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK
Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

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Summary

Primary adrenal insufficiency secondary to syphilis is extremely rare, with only five cases being reported in the literature. We report a case of adrenal insufficiency as a manifestation of Treponema pallidum infection (tertiary syphilis). A 69-year-old, previously fit and well Caucasian male was found to have adrenal insufficiency after being admitted with weight loss, anorexia and postural dizziness resulting in a fall. Biochemical testing showed hyponatraemia, hyperkalaemia, and an inadequate response to Synacthen testing, with a peak cortisol level of 302 nmol/L after administration of 250 µg Synacthen. Abdominal imaging revealed bilateral adrenal hyperplasia with inguinal and retroperitoneal lymphadenopathy. He was started on hydrocortisone replacement; however, it was not until he re-attended ophthalmology with a red eye and visual loss 1 month later, that further work-up revealed the diagnosis of tertiary syphilis. Following a course of penicillin, repeat imaging 5 months later showed resolution of the abnormal radiological appearances. However, adrenal function has not recovered and 3 years following initial presentation, the patient remains on both glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement. In conclusion, this case highlights the importance of considering syphilis as a potential differential diagnosis in patients presenting with adrenal insufficiency and bilateral adrenal masses, given the recent re-emergence of this condition. The relative ease of treating infectious causes of adrenal lesions makes accurate and timely diagnosis crucial.

Learning points:

  • Infectious causes, including syphilis, should be excluded before considering adrenalectomy or biopsy for any patient presenting with an adrenal mass.

  • It is important to perform a full infection screen including tests for human immunodeficiency virus, other blood-borne viruses and concurrent sexually transmitted diseases in patients presenting with bilateral adrenal hyperplasia with primary adrenal insufficiency.

  • Awareness of syphilis as a potential differential diagnosis is important, as it not only has a wide range of clinical presentations, but its prevalence has been increasing in recent times.

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Carine Ghassan Richa Department of Endocrinology, Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon
Lebanese University, Hadath, Lebanon

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Khadija Jamal Saad Department of Endocrinology, Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon
Lebanese University, Hadath, Lebanon

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Georges Habib Halabi Department of Endocrinology, Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon
Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon

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Elie Mekhael Gharios Department of Endocrinology, Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon
Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon

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Fadi Louis Nasr Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon

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Marie Tanios Merheb Department of Endocrinology, Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon
Mount Lebanon Hospital, Beirut, Lebanon

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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.

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Ayanthi A Wijewardene Departments of Medicine

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Sarah J Glastras Departments of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Kolling Institute of Medical Research
Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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Diana L Learoyd Departments of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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Bruce G Robinson Departments of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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Venessa H M Tsang Departments of Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia
Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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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.

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Elise Flynn Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia

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Sara Baqar Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

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Dorothy Liu University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

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Elif I Ekinci Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

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Stephen Farrell Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia

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Jeffrey D Zajac Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

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Mario De Luise Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia

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Ego Seeman Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia

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Summary

ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma (ASP) is a rare cause of ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (CS). We report the case of a 63-year-old female presenting with CS secondary to an ASP complicated by bowel perforation. This case report highlights ASP as an uncommon but important cause of ectopic ACTH secretion (EAS). There have been 29 cases of ASP, all of which were unilateral and benign, but associated with significant complications. Patients presenting with ASP have the potential for cure with unilateral adrenalectomy. Given this promising prognosis if recognised, ASP should be considered in the diagnostic workup of ACTH-dependent CS. As this case demonstrates, gastrointestinal complications can arise from severe hypercortisolaemia associated with CS. Early medical and surgical intervention is imperative as mortality approaches 50% once bowel perforation occurs.

Learning points

  • Consider phaeochromocytoma in the diagnostic workup of ACTH-dependent CS; screen with plasma metanephrines or urinary catecholamines.

  • Serial screening may be required if ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma is suspected, as absolute levels can be misleading.

  • Early catecholamine receptor blockade and adrenal synthesis blockade may avoid the need for rescue bilateral adrenalectomy in ACTH-secreting phaeochromocytoma.

  • Consider early medical or surgical management when gastrointestinal features are present in patients with CS, as bowel perforation due to severe hypercortisolaemia can occur and is associated with significant mortality.

Open access
Kharis Burns Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Westmead Hospital, Sydney, 2145, Australia
Faculty of Medicine, Westmead Hospital, University of Sydney, Sydney, 2145, Australia

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Darshika Christie-David Faculty of Medicine, Westmead Hospital, University of Sydney, Sydney, 2145, Australia
Department of Endocrinology, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, 2065, Australia

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Jenny E Gunton Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Westmead Hospital, Sydney, 2145, Australia
Faculty of Medicine, Westmead Hospital, University of Sydney, Sydney, 2145, Australia
St Vincent's Clinical School, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2010, Australia
Diabetes and Transcription Factors Group, Garvan Institute of Medical Research (GIMR), Sydney, 2010, Australia
Department of Diabetes, Obesity and Endocrinology, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 2045, Australia

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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.

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Harish Venugopal Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Gold Coast, University Hospital, School of Medicine, Griffith University, 1 Hospital Boulevard, Southport, QLD 4215QLD 4215, Queensland, Australia

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Katherine Griffin Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Gold Coast, University Hospital, School of Medicine, Griffith University, 1 Hospital Boulevard, Southport, QLD 4215QLD 4215, Queensland, Australia

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Saima Amer Department of Diabetes and Endocrinology, Gold Coast, University Hospital, School of Medicine, Griffith University, 1 Hospital Boulevard, Southport, QLD 4215QLD 4215, Queensland, Australia

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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.

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