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Open access

Vasileios Chortis, Christine J H May, Kassiani Skordilis, John Ayuk, Wiebke Arlt and Rachel K Crowley

Summary

Context

Adrenal incidentalomas (AI) represent an increasingly common problem in modern endocrine practice. The diagnostic approach to AIs can be challenging and occasionally reveals surprising features. Here we describe two rare cases of complex adrenal lesions consisting of phaeochromocytomas with synchronous metastases from extra-adrenal primaries.

Case descriptions

Patient 1 – a 65-year-old gentleman with a newly diagnosed malignant melanoma was found to harbour an adrenal lesion with suspicious radiographic characteristics. Percutaneous adrenal biopsy was consistent with adrenocortical adenoma. After excision of the skin melanoma and regional lymphatic metastases, he was followed up without imaging. Three years later, he presented with abdominal discomfort and enlargement of his adrenal lesion, associated with high plasma metanephrines. Adrenalectomy revealed a mixed tumour consisting of a large phaeochromocytoma with an embedded melanoma metastasis in its core. Patient 2 – a 63-year-old lady with a history of NF-1-related phaeochromocytoma 20 years ago and previous breast cancer presented with a new adrenal lesion on the contralateral side. Plasma normetanephrine was markedly elevated. Elective adrenalectomy revealed an adrenal tumour consisting of chromaffin cells intermixed with breast carcinoma cells.

Conclusions

Adrenal incidentalomas require careful evaluation to exclude metastatic disease, especially in the context of a history of previous malignancy. Adrenal biopsy provides limited and potentially misleading information. Phaeochromocytomas are highly vascularised tumours that may function as a sieve, extracting and retaining irregularly shaped cancer cells, thereby yielding adrenal masses with intriguing dual pathology.

Learning points:

  • Adrenal incidentalomas require careful evaluation focused on exclusion of underlying hormone excess and malignant pathology.

  • Adrenal biopsy can be misleading and should only be considered in select cases.

  • Phaeochromocytomas harbouring intratumoural metastases from other, extra-adrenal primary malignancies represent rare pathological entities that highlight the complexities that can be presented by adrenal tumours.

Open access

Natasha Shrikrishnapalasuriyar, Mirena Noyvirt, Philip Evans, Bethan Gibson, Elin Foden and Atul Kalhan

A 54-year-old woman was admitted to hospital with a presumed allergic reaction to a single dose of amoxicillin given for a suspected upper respiratory tract infection. She complained of chest tightness although there was no wheeze or stridor. On examination, she was pyrexial, tachycardic, hypertensive and had a diffuse mottled rash on her lower limbs. Her initial investigations showed raised inflammatory markers. She was treated in the intensive care for a presumed anaphylactic reaction with an underlying sepsis. Further investigations including CT head and CSF examination were unremarkable; however, a CT abdomen showed a 10 cm heterogeneous right adrenal mass. Based on review by the endocrine team, a diagnosis of pheochromocytoma crisis was made, which was subsequently confirmed on 24-h urinary metanephrine measurement. An emergency adrenalectomy was considered although she was deemed unfit for surgery. Despite intensive medical management, her conditioned deteriorated and she died secondary to multi-organ failure induced by pheochromocytoma crisis.

Learning points:

  • Pheochromocytoma have relatively higher prevalence in autopsy series (0.05–1%) suggestive of a diagnosis, which is often missed.

  • Pheochromocytoma crisis is an endocrine emergency characterized by hemodynamic instability induced by surge of catecholamines often precipitated by trauma and medications (β blockers, general anesthetic agents, ephedrine and steroids).

  • Pheochromocytoma crisis can mimic acute coronary syndrome, cardiogenic or septic shock.

  • Livedo reticularis can be a rare although significant cutaneous marker of underlying pheochromocytoma crisis.

Open access

R T Casey, B G Challis, D Pitfield, R M Mahroof, N Jamieson, C J Bhagra, A Vuylsteke, S J Pettit and K C Chatterjee

Summary

A phaeochromocytoma (PC) is a rare, catecholamine-secreting neuroendocrine tumour arising from the adrenal medulla. Presenting symptoms of this rare tumour are highly variable but life-threatening multiorgan dysfunction can occur secondary to catecholamine-induced hypertension or hypotension and subsequent cardiovascular collapse. High levels of circulating catecholamines can induce an acute stress cardiomyopathy, also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Recent studies have focused on early diagnosis and estimation of the prevalence of acute stress cardiomyopathy in patients with PC, but very little is reported about management of these complex cases. Here, we report the case of a 38-year-old lady who presented with an acute Takotsubo or stress cardiomyopathy and catecholamine crisis, caused by an occult left-sided 5 cm PC. The initial presenting crisis manifested with symptoms of severe headache and abdominal pain, triggered by a respiratory tract infection. On admission to hospital, the patient rapidly deteriorated, developing respiratory failure, cardiogenic shock and subsequent cardiovascular collapse due to further exacerbation of the catecholamine crisis caused by a combination of opiates and intravenous corticosteroid. An echocardiogram revealed left ventricular apical hypokinesia and ballooning, with an estimated left ventricular ejection fraction of 10–15%. Herein, we outline the early stabilisation period, preoperative optimisation and intraoperative management, providing anecdotal guidance for the management of this rare life-threatening complication of PC.

Learning points:

  • A diagnosis of phaeochromocytoma should be considered in patients presenting with acute cardiomyopathy or cardiogenic shock without a clear ischaemic or valvular aetiology.

  • Catecholamine crisis is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires cross-disciplinary expertise and management to ensure the best clinical outcome.

  • After initial resuscitation, treatment of acute catecholamine-induced stress cardiomyopathy requires careful introduction of alpha-blockade followed by beta-blockade if necessary to manage β-receptor-mediated tachycardia.

  • Prolonged α-adrenergic receptor stimulation by high levels of circulating catecholamines precipitates arterial vasoconstriction and intravascular volume contraction, which can further exacerbate hypotension. Invasive pressure monitoring can aid management of intravascular volume in these complex patients.

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

Stephanie Teasdale and Elham Reda

Summary

We present two cases of adrenal phaeochromocytoma in patients with a previous diagnosis of neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). One had an adrenergic phenotype. The other had a more noradrenergic phenotype. Both had large primary tumours, which increases the likelihood of malignancy. Both also had elevated plasma-free methoxytyramine, which has been linked with malignancy even in non-SDHB phaeochromocytomas.

Learning points

  • Phaeochromocytoma can have varied clinical presentations.

  • Methoxytyramine can be useful in the biochemical work-up of both SDHB-positive and SDHB-negative phaeochromocytoma.

  • The utility of methoxytyramine as a marker of malignancy in NF1-related phaeochromocytoma is unclear, and cases with elevated titres warrant longer follow-up.

Open access

Annika Sjoeholm, Cassandra Li, Chaey Leem, Aiden Lee, Maria P Stack, Paul L Hofman and Benjamin J Wheeler

Summary

Phaeochromocytomas are a rare clinical entity, with dual hormone-secreting lesions particularly uncommon, seen in <1%. ACTH is the most common hormone co-produced, and is potentially lethal if not diagnosed. We present the case of a previously well 10-year-old boy, who presented acutely with a hypertensive crisis and was found to have a unilateral, non-syndromic phaeochromocytoma. Medical stabilization of his hypertension was challenging, and took 3 weeks to achieve, before proceeding to unilateral adrenalectomy. Post-operatively the child experienced severe fatigue and was subsequently confirmed to have adrenal insufficiency. He improved markedly with hydrocortisone replacement therapy, which is ongoing 6 months post-operatively. In retrospect this likely represents unrecognized, sub-clinical ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome secondary to an ACTH/or precursor dual-hormone secreting phaeochromocytoma. At follow-up, his hypertension had resolved, there was no biochemical evidence of recurrence of the phaeochromocytoma, and genetic analysis was indicative of a sporadic lesion.

Learning points

  • Dual hormone secreting phaeochromocytomas with ACTH/or a precursor may cause secondary adrenal insufficiency following surgical removal.

  • The concurrent features of Cushing's syndrome can be mild and easily overlooked presenting diagnostic and management pitfalls.

  • As concomitant syndromes of hormone excess are rare in phaeochromocytomas; the diagnosis requires a high index of suspicion.

  • Serial/diurnal cortisol levels, ACTH measurement +/− low dose dexamethasone suppression (when clinically stable, appropriate adrenergic blockade in place, and well supervised), can all be considered as needed.

Open access

N Atapattu, K A C P Imalke, M Madarasinghe, A Lamahewage and K S H de Silva

Summary

Children rarely present with phaeochromocytoma. Their presentation differs from that of adults. The classic triad of sweating, headache and palpitation may not always present in children with phaeochromocytoma. In this study, we present a 6-year-old girl who came to us with polyuria and polydipsia for evaluation of suspected diabetes insipidus. She gave a clear history of increased sweating in the recent past. On clinical examination, she was noted to have high blood pressure. Subsequent investigations revealed a phaeochromocytoma. Her polyuria and hypertension resolved immediately after the surgery. We did not have the facilities to arrange for genetic tests; however, the patient and the family members are under follow-up for other associated conditions.

Learning points

  • Polyuria and polydipsia are rare symptoms of phaeochromocytoma.

  • Complete physical examination prevented unnecessary investigations for polyuria and led to a correct diagnosis.

  • Classic features are not always necessary for diagnostic evaluation of rare diseases.

Open access

C Mumby, J R E Davis, J Trouillas and C E Higham

Summary

A 52-year-old lady was referred after a 5 cm left adrenal mass was detected on computed tomography (CT) scanning. She was asymptomatic although was noted to have acromegalic facies. Blood pressure (BP) was normal but plasma normetanephrines were raised to 2.81 mmol/l (<1.09) and urinary normetadrenaline excretion 5.3 μmol/24 h (0–4.3). Adrenal biochemistry screen was otherwise normal. Metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scan demonstrated uptake in the adrenal lesion. Growth hormone (GH) nadir on oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) was 2.2 ng/ml with an elevated IGF1 level of 435 ng/ml (72–215), confirming acromegaly biochemically. The remainder of the pituitary screen was normal. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the pituitary revealed an enlarged pituitary gland with a microadenoma/cyst of 2–3 mm in diameter. Alpha blockade was achieved with a titrated dose of phenoxybenzamine before a successful laparoscopic hand-assisted left adrenalectomy. Postoperative biochemical testing revealed a normal plasma normetanephrine level of 0.6 nmol/l (<1.09) and a metanephrine level of 0.35 nmol/l (<0.46 nmol/l). Nadir on OGTT was normal at 0.07 ng/ml with an IGF1 level within the reference range at 111 ng/ml (75–215). Histology demonstrated a well-circumscribed and encapsulated oval mass with microscopic features typical for a phaeochromocytoma. The sections stained strongly positive for GHRH in 20% of cells on immunocytochemistry. Genetic analysis showed no pathogenic mutation. This is a report of the rare condition of a phaeochromocytoma co-secreting GHRH resulting in clinical and biochemical acromegaly. Neuroendocrine tumours can stain positive for GHRH without coexisting acromegaly, but the resolution of patient symptoms and normalisation of serum GH and IGF1 levels following surgery imply that this was functional secretion. Pituitary surgery should be avoided in such cases.

Learning points

  • Incidental findings on imaging require thorough investigation to determine the presence of serious pathology.

  • Acromegaly and phaeochromocytoma are rarely coincident in the same patient. If this occurs, co-secretion of GHRH from the phaeochromocytoma or the presence of underlying genetic abnormalities must be considered.

  • Acromegaly is due to ectopic GHRH-secreting neuroendocrine tumours in <1% of cases, most commonly pancreatic or bronchial lesions.

  • Co-secretion of GHRH from a phaeochromocytoma is extremely rare.

  • In such cases, the pituitary gland may appear enlarged but pituitary surgery should be avoided and surgical treatment of the neuroendocrine tumour attempted.