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Open access

Matthieu St-Jean, Jessica MacKenzie-Feder, Isabelle Bourdeau and André Lacroix

Summary

A 29-year-old G4A3 woman presented at 25 weeks of pregnancy with progressive signs of Cushing’s syndrome (CS), gestational diabetes requiring insulin and hypertension. A 3.4 × 3.3 cm right adrenal adenoma was identified during abdominal ultrasound imaging for nephrolithiasis. Investigation revealed elevated levels of plasma cortisol, 24 h urinary free cortisol (UFC) and late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC). Serum ACTH levels were not fully suppressed (4 and 5 pmol/L (N: 2–11)). One month post-partum, CS regressed, 24-h UFC had normalised while ACTH levels were now less than 2 pmol/L; however, dexamethasone failed to suppress cortisol levels. Tests performed in vivo 6 weeks post-partum to identify aberrant hormone receptors showed no cortisol stimulation by various tests (including 300 IU hLH i.v.) except after administration of 250 µg i.v. Cosyntropin 1–24. Right adrenalectomy demonstrated an adrenocortical adenoma and atrophy of adjacent cortex. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis of the adenoma revealed the presence of ACTH (MC2) receptor mRNA, while LHCG receptor mRNA was almost undetectable. This case reveals that CS exacerbation in the context of pregnancy can result from the placental-derived ACTH stimulation of MC2 receptors on the adrenocortical adenoma. Possible contribution of other placental-derived factors such as oestrogens, CRH or CRH-like peptides cannot be ruled out.

Learning points:

  • Diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome during pregnancy is complicated by several physiological alterations in hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation occurring in normal pregnancy.

  • Cushing’s syndrome (CS) exacerbation during pregnancy can be associated with aberrant expression of LHCG receptor on primary adrenocortical tumour or hyperplasia in some cases, but not in this patient.

  • Placental-derived ACTH, which is not subject to glucocorticoid negative feedback, stimulated cortisol secretion from this adrenal adenoma causing transient CS exacerbation during pregnancy.

  • Following delivery and tumour removal, suppression of HPA axis can require several months to recover and requires glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

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

Gueorgui Dubrocq, Andrea Estrada, Shannon Kelly and Natella Rakhmanina

Summary

An 11-year-old male with perinatally acquired human immune deficiency virus (HIV) infection on antiretroviral regimen, which included abacavir plus lamivudine (Epzicom), didanosine, ritonavir and atazanavir presented with bilateral axillary striae, increased appetite, fatigue, facial swelling and acute weight gain. Two months prior to presentation, the patient had received a diagnostic and therapeutic intra-articular triamcinolone injection in the knee for pain relief and subsequently became progressively swollen in the face, developed striae bilaterally at the axillae, experienced increased appetite, fatigue and an 8 pound weight gain. During the endocrine workup, suspicion for adrenal insufficiency prompted 24-h urine collection for free cortisol, which was found to be undetectable (below LLQ of 1.0 µg/L). This prompted further evaluation of the hypothalamic–pituitary axis (HPA) by standard dose adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test. A 250 µg cosyntropin stimulation test was performed and confirmed HPA axis suppression. Baseline cortisol level was <1 µg/dL and stimulated cortisol level at 30 min was 3.8 µg/dL. The patient was diagnosed with iatrogenic Cushing syndrome and suppression of HPA axis secondary to the drug interaction between ritonavir (RTV) and intra-articular triamcinolone injection. Following endocrine evaluation and workup, the patient was admitted for planned orthopaedic procedure including elective left hamstring lengthening, distal femoral osteotomy and patellar tendon advancement. Taking into consideration the diagnosis of iatrogenic Cushing syndrome, at the start of the surgical procedure, 100 mg IV stress dose of hydrocortisone followed by 50 mg hydrocortisone every 8 h for 24 h was administered. Stress dosing was discontinued 24 h after the procedure. Throughout the hospitalization and upon discharge, the patient continued his ART. From initial presentation, patient has remained clinically stable throughout surgery and postoperative period.

Learning points:

  • Drug–drug interaction between ritonavir and triamcinolone can cause Cushing syndrome.

  • Although triamcinolone has a half-life of 3 h, an intra-articular injection may be systematically absorbed for 3 weeks after injection, and adrenal suppression may last as long as 30 days.

  • Co-administration of ritonavir and corticosteroids may result in an increase of plasma levels of corticosteroids levels, as they are both eliminated by CYP3A metabolism, and this interaction has the potential to prolong the half-life of triamcinolone several fold.

  • No specific guidelines are available for the management of iatrogenic Cushing syndrome secondary to ritonavir and corticosteroids.

  • One treatment option includes replacing ritonavir with a non-protease inhibitor-based regimen.

  • Initiating hydrocortisone replacement therapy to prevent an adrenal crisis is also an alternate option.

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

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

S A A van den Berg, N E van ‘t Veer, J M A Emmen and R H T van Beek

Summary

We present a case of iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome, induced by treatment with fluticasone furoate (1–2 dd, 27.5 µg in each nostril) in a pediatric patient treated for congenital HIV. The pediatric patient described in this case report is a young girl of African descent, treated for congenital HIV with a combination therapy of Lopinavir/Ritonavir (1 dd 320/80 mg), Lamivudine (1 dd 160 mg) and Abacavir (1 dd 320 mg). Our pediatric patient presented with typical Cushingoid features (i.e. striae of the upper legs, full moon face, increased body and facial hair) within weeks after starting fluticasone furoate therapy, which was exacerbated after increasing the dose to 2 dd because of complaints of unresolved rhinitis. Biochemical analysis fitted iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome, with a repeatedly low cortisol (<0.03 µM, ref 0.14–0.60 µM) and low ACTH (9 pg/mL, ref 9–52 pg/mL) without signs of adrenal insufficiency. No other biochemical abnormalities that could point to adrenal or pituitary dysfunction were detected; electrolytes, thyroid and gonadal function, and IGF-1 were within the normal range. Pharmacogenetic analysis revealed that the pediatric patient carried the CYP3A4 *1B/*1G and CYP3A5 *3/*3 genotype (associated with a partial and complete loss of enzyme activity, respectively) which is associated with the development of iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome in patients treated for HIV due to the strong inhibition of CYP3 enzymes by Ritonavir. Upon discontinuation of fluticasone treatment, the pediatric patient improved both clinically and biochemically with normalisation of cortisol and ACTH within a couple of weeks.

Learning points:

  • Fluticasone therapy may induce iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome in a patient treated with anti-retroviral therapy.

  • Pharmacogenetic analysis, in particular CYP3A genotyping, provides useful information in patients treated for HIV with respect to possible future steroid treatment.

  • Fluticasone furoate is not detected in the Siemens Immulite cortisol binding assay.

Open access

Runa Acharya and Udaya M Kabadi

Summary

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is commonly encountered in clinical practice. The current case is a unique and rare presentation of DKA as the initial manifestation of Cushing’s disease secondary to ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma. Appropriate management as elaborated in the article led to total remission of diabetes as well as the Cushing’s disease.

Learning points:

  • DKA is a serious and potentially life-threatening metabolic complication of diabetes mellitus.

  • Some well-known precipitants of DKA include new-onset T1DM, insulin withdrawal and acute illness.

  • In a patient presenting with DKA, the presence of a mixed acid–base disorder warrants further evaluation for precipitants of DKA.

  • We present a rare case of DKA as an initial manifestation of Cushing’s disease secondary to ACTH-producing pituitary adenoma.

Open access

A Pazderska, S Crowther, P Govender, K C Conlon, M Sherlock and J Gibney

Summary

Avascular necrosis (AVN) is a rare presenting feature of endogenous hypercortisolism. If left untreated, complete collapse of the femoral head may ensue, necessitating hip replacement in up to 70% of patients. The majority of the described patients with AVN due to endogenous hypercortisolaemia required surgical intervention. A 36-year-old female, investigated for right leg pain, reported rapid weight gain, bruising and secondary amenorrhoea. She had abdominal adiposity with violaceous striae, facial plethora and hirsutism, atrophic skin, ecchymosis and proximal myopathy. Investigations confirmed cortisol excess (cortisol following low-dose 48h dexamethasone suppression test 807nmol/L; 24h urinary free cortisol 1443nmol (normal<290nmol)). Adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) was <5.0pg/mL. CT demonstrated subtle left adrenal gland hypertrophy. Hypercortisolaemia persisted after left adrenalectomy. Histology revealed primary pigmented micronodular adrenal disease. Post-operatively, right leg pain worsened and left leg pain developed, affecting mobility. MRI showed bilateral femoral head AVN. She underwent right adrenalectomy and steroid replacement was commenced. Four months after surgery, leg pain had resolved and mobility was normal. Repeat MRI showed marked improvement of radiological abnormalities in both femoral heads, consistent with spontaneous healing of AVN. We report a case of Cushing’s syndrome due to primary pigmented nodular adrenocortical disease, presenting with symptomatic AVN of both hips. This was managed conservatively from an orthopaedic perspective. Following cure of hypercortisolaemia, the patient experienced excellent recovery and remains symptom free 4 years after adrenalectomy. This is the first report of a favourable outcome over long-term follow-up of a patient with bilateral AVN of the hip, which reversed with treatment of endogenous hypercortisolaemia.

Learning points

  • AVN of femoral head can be a presenting feature of hypercortisolism, both endogenous and exogenous.

  • Rarely, treatment of hypercortisolaemia can reverse AVN without the need for orthopaedic intervention.

  • Primary pigmented nodular adrenal disease is a rare cause of ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome.

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.