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Paweena Chunharojrith, Kanapon Pradniwat, and Tanawan Kongmalai


Ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) secretion is responsible for 5–15% of Cushing’s syndrome (CS). Neuroendocrine tumor (NET) is a common cause of ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS). However, primary renal NET is exceedingly rare. Fewer than 100 cases have been reported and only a few cases presented with CS. Because of its rarity and lack of long-term follow-up data, clinical manifestations, biological behavior and prognosis are not well understood. Here, we report the case of a 51-year-old man who presented with clinical and laboratory findings compatible with EAS. CT scan revealed a lesion of uncertain nature at the lower pole of the left kidney. Octreotide scan found a filling defect at the lower pole of left kidney. It was difficult to determine if this finding was the true etiology or an incidental finding. Unfortunately, the patient’s clinical status rapidly deteriorated with limited medical treatment. The patient underwent left nephrectomy and left adrenalectomy. Histopathological examination confirmed NET with oncocytic features. Immunohistochemistry staining was positive for ACTH. The patient’s condition gradually improved. Additionally, glucocorticoid replacement was required only 6 months during a gradual recovery of hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis achieved approximately three years after tumor removal. Although extremely rare, primary renal NET should be considered as a cause of EAS particularly in a patient with rapid clinical deterioration. Thorough investigation, early diagnosis and careful management are crucial to reduce morbidity and mortality.

Learning points

  • Primary renal NET is an extremely rare cause of ectopic ACTH syndrome.
  • Ectopic ACTH syndrome has a rapid onset with severe clinical manifestations. In this case, the patient’s condition deteriorated rapidly, resulting from severe hypercortisolism. Resection of the tumor is the most effective treatment.
  • Localization of ectopic ACTH-secreting tumors is very challenging. Multimodality imaging including CT, MRI, octreotide scan, and positron emission tomography plays a crucial role in identifying the tumors. However, each imaging modality has limitations.