Free cortisol evaluation ‘useful’ after abnormal dexamethasone test

An assessment of free cortisol after a dexamethasone suppression test could add value to the diagnostic workup of hypercortisolism, which can be plagued by false-positive results, according to data from a cross-sectional study.

A 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test (DST) is a standard of care endocrine test for evaluation of adrenal masses and for patients suspected to have endogenous Cushing’s syndrome. Interpretation of a DST is affected by dexamethasone absorption and metabolism; several studies suggest a rate of 6% to 20% of false-positive results because of inadequate dexamethasone concentrations or differences in the proportion of cortisol bound to corticosteroid-binding globulin affecting total cortisol concentrations.

adrenal glands
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“As the prevalence of adrenal adenomas is around 5% to 7% in adults undergoing an abdominal CT scan, it is important to accurately interpret the DST,” Irina Bancos, MD, associate professor in the division of endocrinology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told Healio. “False-positive DST results are common, around 15% of cases, and as such, additional or second-line testing is often considered by physicians, including measuring dexamethasone concentrations at the time of the DST, repeating DST or performing DST with a higher dose of dexamethasone. We hypothesized that free cortisol measurements during the DST will be more accurate than total cortisol measurements, especially among those treated with oral contraceptive therapy.”

Diverse cohort analyzed

Bancos and colleagues analyzed data from adult volunteers without adrenal disorders (n = 168; 47 women on oral contraceptive therapy) and participants undergoing evaluation for hypercortisolism (n = 196; 16 women on oral contraceptives). The researchers assessed levels of post-DST dexamethasone and free cortisol, using mass spectrometry, and total cortisol, via immunoassay. The primary outcome was a reference range for post-DST free cortisol levels and the diagnostic accuracy of post-DST total cortisol level.

Irina Bancos

“A group that presents a particular challenge are women treated with oral estrogen,” Bancos told Healio. “In these cases, total cortisol increases due to estrogen-stimulated cortisol-binding globulin production, potentially leading to false-positive DST results. We intentionally designed our study to include a large reference group of women treated with oral contraceptive therapy allowing us to develop normal ranges of post-DST total and free cortisol, and then apply these cutoffs to the clinical practice.”

Researchers observed adequate dexamethasone concentrations ( 0.1 µg/dL) in 97.6% of healthy volunteers and in 96.3% of patients. Among women volunteers taking oral contraceptives, 25.5% had an abnormal post-DST total cortisol measurement, defined as a cortisol level of at least 1.8 µg/dL.

Among healthy volunteers, the upper post-DST free cortisol range was 48 ng/dL in men and women not taking oral contraceptives, and 79 ng/dL for women taking oral contraceptives.

Compared with post-DST free cortisol, diagnostic accuracy of post-DST total cortisol level was 87.3% (95% CI, 81.7-91.7). All false-positive results occurred among patients with a post-DST cortisol level between 1.8 µg/dL and 5 µg/dL, according to researchers.

Oral contraceptive use was the only factor associated with false-positive results (21.1% vs. 4.9%; P = .02).

Findings challenge guidelines

Natalia Genere

“We were surprised by several findings of our study,” Natalia Genere, MD, instructor in medicine in the division of endocrinology, metabolism and lipid research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Healio. “First, we saw that with a standardized patient instruction on DST, we found that optimal dexamethasone concentrations were reached in a higher proportion of patients than previously reported (97%), suggesting that rapid metabolism or poor absorption of dexamethasone may play a lower role in the rate of false positives. Second, we found that measurements of post-DST total cortisol in women taking oral contraceptive therapy accurately excluded [mild autonomous cortisol secretion] in three-quarters of patients, suggesting discontinuation of oral contraceptives, as suggested in prior guidelines, may not be routinely necessary.”

Genere said post-DST free cortisol performed “much better” than total cortisol among women treated with oral estrogen.

Stepwise approach recommended

Based on the findings, the authors suggested a sequential approach to dexamethasone suppression in clinical practice.

“We recommend a stepwise approach to enhance DST interpretation, with the addition of dexamethasone concentration and/or free cortisol in cases of abnormal post-DST total cortisol,” Bancos said. “We found dexamethasone concentrations are particularly helpful when post-DST total cortisol is at least 5 µg/dL and free cortisol is helpful in a patient with optimal dexamethasone concentrations and a post-DST total cortisol between 1.8 µg/dL and 5 µg/dL. We believe that DST with free cortisol is a useful addition to the repertoire of available testing for [mild autonomous cortisol secretion], and that its use reduces need for repetitive assessments and patient burden of care, especially in women treated with oral contraceptive therapy.”

Medullary thyroid cancer with ectopic Cushing’s syndrome: A multicentre case series

First published: 06 November 2021

Abstract

Objective

Ectopic Cushing′s syndrome (ECS) induced by medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) is rare, and data on clinical characteristics, treatment and outcome are limited.

Design

Retrospective cohort study in three German and one Swiss referral centres.

Patients

Eleven patients with MTC and occurrence of ECS and 22 matched MTC patients without ECS were included.

Measurements

The primary endpoint of this study was the overall survival (OS) in MTC patients with ECS versus 1:2 matched MTC patients without ECS.

Results

The median age at diagnosis of ECS was 59 years (range: 35–81) and the median time between initial diagnosis of MTC and diagnosis of ECS was 29 months (range: 0–193). Median serum morning cortisol was 49 µg/dl (range: 17–141, normal range: 6.2–18). Eight (73%) patients received treatment for ECS. Treatment of ECS consisted of bilateral adrenalectomy (BADX) in four (36%) patients and adrenostatic treatment in eight (73%) patients. One patient received treatment with multityrosine kinase inhibitor (MKI) to control hypercortisolism. All patients experienced complete resolution of symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome and biochemical control of hypercortisolism. Patients with ECS showed a shorter median OS of 87 months (95% confidence interval [95% CI]: 64–111) than matched controls (190 months, 95% CI: 95–285). Of the nine deaths, four were related to progressive disease (PD). Four patients showed PD as well as complications and comorbidities of hypercortisolism before death.

Conclusion

This study shows that ECS occurs in advanced stage MTC and is associated with a poor prognosis. Adrenostatic treatment and BADX were effective systemic treatment options in patients with MTC and ECS to control their hypercortisolism. MKI treatment achieved complete remission of hypercortisolism and sustained tumour control in one treated case.

1 INTRODUCTION

Medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) arises from calcitonin-producing parafollicular C-cells of the thyroid gland and accounts for 2%–5% of all thyroid malignancies.1 In about 25% of cases, MTC occurs in a hereditary manner as a part of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2) caused by oncogenic germline REarranged during Transfection (RET)-mutations. Up to 65% of patients with the sporadic disease have somatic RET-mutations, among which RETM918T is the most common and associated with adverse outcome.25 At diagnosis, cervical lymph node metastases are present in about half of patients and distant metastases in around 10% of MTC patients.6 While the localized disease has a 10-year disease-specific survival (DSS) of 96%, 10-year DSS is only 44% in cases with distant metastases.79

Besides calcitonin and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), C-cells may also ectopically secrete corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) or adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Cushing’s syndrome (CS) due to ectopic CRH or ACTH secretion induced by MTC is rare and data on clinical characteristics, treatment and outcome are limited and mostly from case studies. In a retrospective study of 1640 adult patients with MTC, ectopic Cushing’s syndrome (ECS) due to ACTH secretion was reported in only 0.6% of patients, whereas previous studies reported a higher prevalence, possibly due to selection bias.1012 ECS mostly occurs in metastatic cases and significantly impairs prognosis: around 50% of the mortality in patients with ECS has been attributed to complications of hypercortisolism.12 Diagnosis of ECS is difficult and includes a combination of clinical assessment, dynamic biochemical tests (e.g., 24 h urinary-free cortisol, midnight salivary cortisol, 1 and 8 mg dexamethasone suppression test), inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS) and multimodal imaging.13

This retrospective study aims at describing clinical characteristics, treatment and prognosis of 11 patients with MTC and ECS at 3 German and 1 Swiss tertiary care centres and to illustrate effective treatment in this ultrarare condition.

2 PATIENTS AND METHODS

2.1 Setting

This registry study was conducted as part of the German Study Group for Rare Malignant Tumours of the Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands. Data were obtained from records of patients diagnosed with MTC between 1990 and 2020 and concomitant ECS diagnosed between 1995 and 2020 in three German and one Swiss tertiary care centres. All patients provided written informed consent and the study was approved by the ethics committee of the University of Würzburg (96/13) and subsequently by the ethics committees of all participating centres.

2.2 Data acquisition

Eligible patients were 11 adults with histopathological evidence of MTC and the diagnosis of ECS at initial diagnosis (synchronous CS) or during the course of disease (metachronous CS). This group was matched with 22 patients with histologically confirmed MTC without evidence of ECS by sex, age at MTC diagnosis (±5 years), tumour stage and calcitonin doubling time (CDT).

The diagnosis of ECS was established by standard endocrine testing according to international guideline recommendations,14 local good clinical practice procedures and laboratory assays in participating centres. The primary endpoint of this study was the assessment of overall survival (OS) in MTC patients with ECS from the date of MTC-diagnosis and the date of ECS-diagnosis versus matched MTC patients without ECS (1:2 ratio). The secondary endpoints were assessment of progression-free survival (PFS) and efficacy of multityrosine kinase inhibitors (MKIs) treatment (based on routine clinical imaging in analogy to RECIST 1.0 and 1.1). Treatment and follow-up of patients were performed according to the local practice of participating centres. Efficacy was assessed locally by imaging (positron emission tomography/computed tomography [PET/CT], CT, magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] of the liver and bone scintigraphy) and measurement of serum calcitonin and CEA levels every 3–6 months. Clinical data were recorded by trained personnel at all sites. Tumour stage was defined according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer TNM classification, seventh edition,15 based on clinical and histopathological assessments.

2.3 Statistical analysis

PFS and OS probabilities were estimated using the Kaplan–Meier method. The log-rank test was not used to test the difference between the study group and the control group due to the paired sample design. For the comparison of nonnormally distributed data, we used the Mann–Whitney U test. p Values less than .05 were considered statistically significant. Statistical analyses were performed with SPSS Version 26 (IBM).

3 RESULTS

3.1 Clinical characteristics of patients with ECS

Eleven patients (five male and six female) with histopathological evidence of MTC with ECS in three German and one Swiss tertiary care centres were included. Twenty-two controls with histologically confirmed MTC without the diagnosis of ECS matched by sex, age at MTC diagnosis (±5 years), tumour stage and CDT were enroled. Baseline clinical characteristics of the study population and the control group are shown in Table 1. In patients with ECS, median follow-up from initial MTC diagnosis was 6.3 years (range: 0–17) and median follow-up from diagnosis of ECS 7 months (range: 0–110). Median age at initial diagnosis of sporadic MTC was 45 (range: 31–67, n = 7) and 52 years (range: 35–55, n = 3) for patients with germline RET mutant MTC.

Read more at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cen.14617

COVID-19 Targets Human Adrenal Glands

COVID-19 develops due to infection with SARS-CoV-2, which particularly in elderly with certain comorbidities (eg, metabolic syndrome)

can cause severe pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. Some patients with severe COVID-19 will develop a life-threatening sepsis with its typical manifestations including disseminated intravascular coagulation and multiorgan dysfunction.

Latest evidence suggests that even early treatment with inhaled steroids such as budesonide might prevent clinical deterioration in patients with COVID-19.

This evidence underlines the potentially important role for adrenal steroids in coping with COVID-19.

The adrenal gland is an effector organ of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and the main source of glucocorticoids, which are critical to manage and to survive sepsis. Therefore, patients with pre-existing adrenal insufficiency are advised to double their doses of glucocorticoid supplementation after developing moderate to more severe forms of COVID-19.

Adrenal glands are vulnerable to sepsis-induced organ damage and their high vascularisation and blood supply makes them particularly susceptible to endothelial dysfunction and haemorrhage. Accordingly, adrenal endothelial damage, bilateral haemorrhages, and infarctions have been already reported in patients with COVID-19.

Adrenal glands contain the highest concentration of antioxidants to compensate enhanced generation of reactive oxygen species, side products of steroidogenesis, which together with elevated intra-adrenal inflammation can contribute to adrenocortical cell death.

Furthermore, sepsis-associated critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency, which describes coexistence of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal dysfunction, reduced cortisol metabolism, and tissue resistance to glucocorticoids, was reported in critically ill patients with COVID-19.

Low cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) responses during acute phase of infections consistent with critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency diagnosis (random plasma cortisol level lower than 10 μg/dL) were reported in one study with patients suffering from mild to moderate COVID-19 manifestations.

It is however possible those other factors triggered by COVID-19 such as hypothalamic or pituitary damage, adrenal infarcts, or previously undiagnosed conditions, such as antiphospholipid syndrome, might be responsible for reduced function of adrenal glands. However, contrary to this observation, a study with patients with moderate to severe COVID-19 revealed a very high cortisol response with values exceeding 744 nmol/L, which were positively correlated with severity of disease.

In this clinical study,

highly elevated cortisol concentrations showed an adequate adrenal cortisol production possibly reflecting the elevated stress level of those severely affected patients.

However, since ACTH measurements were not done, it is impossible to verify whether high concentrations of cortisol in those patients resulted from an increment of cortisol, or were confounded by reduced glucocorticoid metabolism.

A critical and yet unsolved major question is whether SARS-CoV-2 infection can contribute either directly or indirectly to adrenal gland dysfunction observed in some patients with COVID-19 or contribute to the slow recovery of some patients with long COVID.
We performed a comprehensive histopathological examination of adrenal tissue sections from autopsies of patients that died due to COVID-19 (40 cases), collected from three different pathology centres in Regensburg, Dresden, and Zurich (appendix pp 1–3). We observed evidence of cellular damage and frequently small vessel vasculitis (endotheliitis) in the periadrenal fat tissue (six cases with low and 13 cases with high density; appendix p 10) and much milder occurrence in adrenal parenchyma (ten cases with low and one case with moderate score; appendix p 10), but no evidence of thrombi formation was found (appendix p 10). Endotheliitis has been scored according to a semi-quantitative immunohistochemistry analysis as described in the appendix (p 4). Additionally, in the majority of cases (38 cases), we noticed enhanced perivascular lymphoplasmacellular infiltration of different density and sporadically a mild extravasation of erythrocytes (appendix p 10). However, no evidence of widespread haemorrhages and degradation of adrenocortical cells were found, which is consistent with histological findings reported previously.

In another autopsy study analysing adrenal glands of patients with COVID-19, additional signs of acute fibrinoid necrosis of small vessels in adrenal parenchyma, subendothelial vacuolisation and apoptotic debris were found.

Adrenal gland is frequently targeted by bacteria and viruses, including SARS-CoV,

which was responsible for the 2002–04 outbreak of SARS in Asia. Considering that SARS-CoV-2 shares cellular receptors with SARS-CoV, including angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 and transmembrane protease serine subtype 2, its tropism to the adrenal gland is therefore conceivable.

To investigate whether adrenal vascular cells and possibly steroid-producing cells are direct targets of SARS-CoV-2, we examined SARS-CoV-2 presence in adrenal gland tissues obtained from the 40 patients with COVID-19 (appendix pp 1–3). Adrenal tissues from patients who died before the COVID-19 pandemic were used as negative controls to validate antibody specificity. Using a monoclonal antibody (clone 1A9; appendix p 11), we detected SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in adrenocortical cells in 18 (45%) of 40 adrenal gland tissues (figure Bappendix p 12). In the same number of adrenal tissues (18 [45%] of 40), we have detected SARS-CoV-2 mRNA using in situ hybridisation (ISH; figure Aappendix p 12). The concordance rate between immunohistochemistry and ISH methods was 90% (36/40). Scattered and rather focal expression pattern of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein was found in the adrenal cortex (figure A and Bappendix p 12). In addition, SARS-CoV-2 expression was confirmed in 15 out of 30 adrenal gland tissues of patients with COVID-19 by multiplex RT-qPCR (appendix pp 6–7). The concordance between ISH, immunohistochemistry, and RT-qPCR techniques for SARS-CoV-2 positivity was only 23%, which is a technical limitation of our study possibly reflecting the low number of virus-positive cells. However, when considering triple-negative samples, an overall 53% consensus was found (appendix pp 7–8).

Figure thumbnail gr1
FigureDetection of SARS-CoV-2 in human adrenal gland from a patient who died due to COVID-19
Finally, to confirm the identity of infected cells, we have performed an ultrastructural analysis of adrenal tissue from a triple-positive patient case (by immunohistochemistry, ISH, and RT-qPCR), and found numerous SARS-CoV-2 virus-like particles in cells enriched with liposomes, which are typical markers of adrenocortical cells (figure C). The cortical identity of SARS-CoV-2 spike positive cells was also shown using serial tissue sections, demarcating regions with double positivity for viral protein and StAR RNA (appendix p 12). Furthermore, susceptibility of adrenocortical cells to SARS-CoV-2 infection was confirmed by in-vitro experiments (appendix p 7) showing detection of viral spike protein in adrenocortical carcinoma cells (NCI-H295R) cultured in a medium containing SARS-CoV-2 (figure D), and its absence in mock-treated control cells (figure E). We showed an uptake of viral particles in the adrenocortical cells, by ISH, immunohistochemistry, RT-qPCR and electron microscopy (figure A–C). Mechanistically, an uptake of SARS-CoV-2 like particles might involve expression of ACE2 in vascular cells (appendix p 13) and perhaps of the shorter isoform of ACE2 together with TMPRSS2 and other known or currently unknown virus-entry facilitating factors in adrenocortical cells (appendix p 13). An example of such factor is scavenger receptor type 1, which is highly expressed in adrenocortical cells.

Several forms of regulated cell necrosis were implicated in sepsis-mediated adrenal gland damage.

One of the prime examples of regulated necrosis triggered by sepsis-associated tissue inflammation is necroptosis. The necrotic process is characterised by loss of membrane integrity and release of danger-associated molecular patterns, which further promote tissue inflammation (necroinflammation) involving enhanced activation of the complement system and related activation of neutrophils. Whether necroptosis might be involved in COVID-19-associated adrenal damage is currently unknown. In our study, we showed prominent expression of phospho Mixed Lineage Kinase Domain Like Pseudokinase (pMLKL) indicating necroptosis activation in adrenomedullary cells (appendix p 14) in adrenal glands of COVID-19 patients. However, since we have also observed pMLKL expression in adrenal glands obtained from autopsies done before the COVID-19 pandemic (controls), necroptosis activation in medullary cells might be a rather frequent and SARS-CoV-2 independent event. However, contrary to the adrenal medulla, pMLKL positivity in the adrenal cortex was only found in virus-positive regions (appendix p 14). This finding suggests that SARS-CoV-2 infection might have directly triggered activation of necroptosis in infected cells in the adrenal cortex, whereas pMLKL expression in the adrenal medulla seems rather an indirect consequence of systemic inflammation.

In summary, in our study of 40 patients who died from COVID-19, we did not observe widespread degradation of human adrenals that might lead to manifestation of the adrenal crisis. However, our study shows that the adrenal gland is a prominent target for the viral infection and ensuing cellular damage, which could trigger a predisposition for adrenal dysfunction. Whether those changes directly contribute to adrenal insufficiency seen in some patients with COVID-19 or lead to its complications (such as long COVID) remains unclear. Large multicentre clinical studies should address this question.
WK, HC, and SRB declare funds from Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (project number 314061271, TRR 205/1 [“The Adrenal: Central Relay in Health and Disease”] to WK and SRB; HA 8297/1-1 to HC), during the conduct of this Correspondence. All other authors declare no competing interests. We thank Maria Schuster, Linda Friedrich, and Uta Lehnert for performing some of the immunohistochemical staining and in-situ hybridisation.

Supplementary Material

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Paraneoplastic Cushing Syndrome in Gastrointestinal Neuroendocrine Tumour

Abstract

Ectopic production of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) by gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) is relatively uncommon. We report a rare case of a liver metastatic G1 low-grade NET of the intestine that induced hypercortisolism after surgical resection. A 50-year-old man was admitted for an intestinal obstruction caused by a tumour of the intestine. Paraneoplastic Cushing syndrome was diagnosed more than a year later following the appearance of cushingoid symptoms, despite stable disease according to RECIST criteria but chromogranin A increase. Ketoconazole and sandostatin medical treatment and liver chemoembolization never managed to control the hypercortisolism unlike the bilateral adrenalectomy. The identification and effective management of this uncommon statement of ectopic ACTH secretion is important to improve the patient’s prognosis and quality of life.

© 2021 The Author(s). Published by S. Karger AG, Basel


Introduction

Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are a relatively rare and heterogeneous tumour type, comprising about 2% of all malignancies [1]. The gastrointestinal (GI) and pancreatic tract and lungs are the most common primary tumour sites, with 62%–67% and 22%–27%, respectively, and within the GI tract, most of them occurs in the small bowel or the appendix [23]. Since 2010 and the latest version of the WHO classification, GI and pancreatic NETs are subdivided according to their mitotic count or Ki67 index, associated with cellular proliferation. Well-differentiated NETs are relatively low-aggressive tumours, with a rather indolent disease course and a good prognosis in most patients. Nevertheless, some NETs with a low-grade histologic appearance may behave aggressively with rapid growth and metastasis proliferation [45]. Because of this low incidence, tumour heterogeneity, lack of awareness, and non-uniform classifications, GI and pancreatic NETs remain a poorly understood disease, and delayed diagnosis is common among these [67].

Paraneoplastic Cushing syndrome (PCS) represents approximately 10% of all Cushing syndrome and is frequently caused by NETs [89]. While PCS is common with lung NETs (>50% of PCS), this paraneoplastic syndrome is relatively uncommon associated with GI NETs and only described in isolated case reports. Nevertheless, knowing the indolent course of low-grade NETs and the clinical symptoms of cushingoid appearance resulting from prolonged exposure to excessive glucocorticoids, PCS is typically present before cancer detection [8], and surgery is curative in >80% of patients [1011]. For the remaining 20%, effective management is necessary, given the risk of infections and thromboembolic events due to the immunosuppressive effect and the hypercoagulable state [11]. For patients with medically unmanageable hypercortisolism, synchronous bilateral adrenalectomy is an effective and safe treatment [12]. We describe a case of typical metastatic intestinal NETs associated with a late ectopic Cushing syndrome, which was managed with synchronous bilateral adrenalectomy.

Case Presentation

We describe the case of a 50-year-old man admitted to the emergency department for an intestinal obstruction caused by an intestinal tumour. Anatomopathological analysis of the resected specimen and lymph nodes revealed an NET. Three nodes out of 12 removed were positive for cancer localization. The tumour presented serosa infiltration and perineural, vascular and lymphatics vessel invasion. The primary location could not be confirmed histologically between the ileum and appendix. Our diagnosis was pT3N1 according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) classification. An immunohistochemistry analysis revealed a Ki-67 expression <2%. Mitotic count/10 was 2 × 10 high-power fields, and cells showed well differentiation. So, according to the WHO classification, this tumour was classified as G1 NET. 111In-Octreoscan (Octreoscan) revealed lymph node and multifocal liver metastases.

After discussion with a multidisciplinary team, the patient was started treatment with somatostatin analogue. Twelve months later, although computerized tomography (CT) scan showed stable disease, patient physical examination revealed facial puffiness with fatty tissue deposits in the face, generalized oedema, muscle weakness, and wasting. He also reports polydipsia, insomnia, and balance disorders. We noted however a discreet increase in the chromogranin A (CgA) value, from 55 ng/mL to 199 ng/mL (with a diagnostic value of 1,700 ng/mL) without an increase in the urinary 5-HIAA level.

Laboratory tests revealed an 8.00 a.m. cortisol level of 888 nmol/L, an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) level of 96.5 pg/mL, and 24-h urine free cortisol of 1,494 μg. A high-dose dexamethasone suppression test showed no cortisol suppression. The patient was diagnosed with ACTH-dependent Cushing syndrome. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain showed a normal pituitary gland, confirming the PCS diagnosis. Ketoconazole treatment associated with sandostatin alleviated hypercortisolism within a month, with a cortisol level within normal laboratory ranges. Two months later, secondary diabetes mellitus was discovered and managed effectively with insulin glargine.

Four months later and despite stable disease according to RECIST criteria, cortisol levels increased considerably, with cortisol values similar to diagnosis without ketoconazole increased response. Moreover, diabetes became complicated to manage. Also we noted an increase in CgA value, from 165 ng/mL to 393 ng/mL. Chemoembolization was performed on liver metastases without any effectiveness on hypercortisolism. Adding targeted therapy with mTOR inhibitor (everolimus) was considered. Nevertheless, given the magnitude of drug interaction, the use of everolimus should be avoided in ketoconazole-treated patients, or vice versa.

Considering the risks for the patient and expected benefits, synchronous bilateral adrenalectomy was performed. It resolved hypercortisolism and permitted to stabilize diabetes (shown in Fig. 1). Everolimus treatment has been started 1 month after the surgery. Twelve months after everolimus initiation, the patient CT scan still showed stable disease, according to RECIST criteria and a stable CgA value.

Fig. 1.

Histogram of 8:00 a.m. plasmatic cortisol, ACTH, 24-h urinary cortisol, and CgA levels from Cushing syndrome diagnosis to bilateral adrenalectomy. ACTH, adrenocorticotropic-hormone; ULN, upper limit of normal; 8:00 a.m. cortisol normal ranges (172–497) nmol/L; ACTH normal ranges (7–63) ng/L; 24-h urinary cortisol normal ranges (20–50) µg/24 h; CgA normal ranges (27–94) ng/mL. ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone; CgA, chromogranin A.

/WebMaterial/ShowPic/1364794

Discussion

Approximately 10% of Cushing syndrome is paraneoplastic and may result in many tumours, preferentially lung cancer (50–60% of time), with 1–2% of lung NET and about 5% of small-cell lung cancer associated with Cushing syndrome [81113]. Others reported sites of malignancy include the thymus, thyroid, pancreas, and adrenals. Except for the pancreas, PCS secondary to GI NET (appendix, duodenum, ileum, colon, and anal canal) is extremely rare, and only isolated case reports have described this syndrome.

In paraneoplastic endocrine syndrome cases, symptoms are due to secretion of hormones by malignant cells or secondary to the impact of neoplastic cell antibodies on normal cells. PCS arises from tumour secretion of ACTH or CRH, resulting in production and release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Unlike paraneoplastic endocrine syndromes that present most of the time after cancer diagnosis, PCS typically appears before cancer detection and similarly relapse may herald tumour recurrence [1114]. In our case, no symptoms related to hypercortisolaemia led the patient to consult before obstructive syndrome. The occurrence of hypercortisolaemia 12 months after diagnosis was not linked to imaging progression according to RECIST criteria. However, concurrent CgA increase should be noted.

Commonly measured tumour markers in NETs include serum CgA and 5-HIAA, the final secreted product of serotonin, levels in a 24-h urine sample. Elevated levels of circulating of CgA have been associated with almost all types of NETs, including those arising from GI tract but also pheochromocytomas [15]. The clinical sensitivity of CgA has been demonstrated to depend on the threshold cut-off, on NET primary location, and on the spread of the disease, especially the existence of liver metastases [16]. Indeed, a higher sensitivity was found in patients with midgut NETs and liver metastases, as in our patient. Moreover, with our cut-off level (94 ng/mL) approximately the same as used in 2 studies [1617], sensitivity was 62%–67% and specificity was 96%. Furthermore, Korse et al. [18]. postulated that serum CgA was superior to urinary 5-HIAA concerning the prognostic relevance in the follow-up of metastatic midgut NETs. These data are consistent with our patient outcomes for which 5-HIAA was not increased unlike CgA. However, although CgA is currently the best available tumour marker indicating tumour recurrence [19], there are many comorbidities and drugs that may increase CgA levels and lead to false-positive results. As a result, it is questionable whether the CgA increase in our patient was not rather secondary to cardiovascular or GI disorders, inflammatory diseases, diabetes, or even food intake before CgA measurement [162021]. Similarly, many drugs, foods, natural stimulants, and comorbidities may alter the level of 24-h urinary 5-HIAA, positively or negatively.

Cushing syndrome is due to hypercortisolism. Two-thirds of endogenous elevated cortisol is caused by ACTH-secreting pituitary tumours, 15% by primary adrenal glands and 15% by ectopic PCS [22]. The first step is laboratory tests with cortisol and ACTH levels to differentiate ACTH-dependent or ACTH-independent Cushing syndrome. When ACTH-dependent Cushing syndrome is confirmed, differentiation between PCS and Cushing disease can be difficult. The high-dose dexamethasone suppression tests help distinguish Cushing disease from PCS, as in our presented case. Indeed, no decrease in blood cortisol during the high-dose test and high ACTH levels are consistent with PCS. Nevertheless, 21–26% of ectopic ACTH secretions have a positive suppression, about one-third of MRI scans for pituitary adenoma exclusion are false-negative, and occult ectopic ACTH-secreting tumours have been described in about 15% of adult patients [2326]. In our patient, both MRI and high-dose dexamethasone suppression test are consistent with PCS. The gold standard diagnosis – inferior petrosal sinus sampling – that demonstrates gradient in ACTH concentration between the affected side sinus and the periphery in pituitary lesions, whereas the absence of this gradient in PCS was not performed because of its invasiveness and its neurological accident risks [27]. Note however although the ACTH level at diagnosis suggests ACTH-dependent Cushing syndrome, the occurrence of adrenal metastasis few months after the diagnosis and explaining the sudden deregulation could be possible and consistent with the CgA increase but refuted by adrenal gland histology.

Clinical features of PCS depend on the source of production and rate of ACTH synthesis. Characteristically, these patients have severe hypercortisolaemia, leading to low serum potassium levels, diabetes, generalized infections, hypertension, and psychosis. To confirm whether rapidly growing tumours produce sudden onset of symptoms, gradual physical signs are noticed in slower growing tumours [28], as for our patient for whom we suppose that liver metastases started to produce ACTH ectopically. An option for non-resectable neuroendocrine liver lesions, given that the majority of them are hypervascular, is hepatic directed procedures, which include ablative therapy, transarterial embolization, transarterial chemoembolization, and selective internal radiation therapy with yttrium-90 microspheres [29]. Hepatic artery chemoembolization for the treatment of liver metastases from NETs is useful for tumour size reduction and symptom palliation and can be associated with prolonged survival [30]. Nevertheless, chemoembolization on NET liver metastasis-producing ACTH is not well documented. Given the fact that hepatic metastasis chemoembolization was ineffective on hypercortisolism and despite Octreoscan results, there is still a small chance that he harbours somewhere else metastasis-producing ACTH. Indeed, PET-CT imaging with 68Gallium-DOTATATE has recently replaced Octreoscan as the new gold standard with a higher detection rate in GI NETs [31].

Hypercortisolism requires a prompt therapeutic management to reduce the risk of development of a potentially fatal emergency. Synchronous bilateral adrenalectomy is an effective and safe treatment for patient with unmanageable ACTH-dependent hypercortisolism [12]. Taking account of the risks to the patient and the lack of effective medical therapeutic possibilities, we have chosen to perform this surgery.

According to the recent consensus guidelines for digestive NETs of the jejunum and ileum, the 5-year survival rate is 36% in patients with distant metastases [32]. Several analyses suggest a significant survival benefit in patients who received surgery for the primary tumour even in the presence of metastasis [33]. Moreover, the impact of liver resection or liver-directed therapies on the survival of patients with liver metastasis is unclear with conflicting results [33]. PCS can cause a poor clinical outcome due to various complications with an increase in susceptibility to infection and GI ulceration. Indeed, for small-cell lung cancer and gynaecological malignancies, PCS is associated with accelerated decompensation and poorer response to chemotherapy (Mitchell et al. [14]). Whether these findings can be extrapolated to other malignancies is unknown. However, an early diagnosis and a prompt management can improve patient outcomes through earlier cancer diagnosis or relapse and thus earlier administration of treatment, as was the case with our patient.

Conclusion

We report an uncommon case with PCS due to a GI NET. The identification of this rare cause of ectopic ACTH secretion can be challenging, but aggressive management is critical to prevent or decelerate the acute decompensation of cancer patients and prolong overall survival. In this context, synchronous bilateral adrenalectomy may be the unique answer.

Statement of Ethics

Written informed consent was obtained from the patient for publication of this case report and any accompanying images. A copy of the written consent is available for review by the editor-in-chief of this journal.

Conflict of interest Statement

The authors have no conflict of interest to declare.

Funding Sources

No funding was received for this study.

Author Contributions

L.M. conceived the study and participated in data collection. L.V. performed the literature search and wrote the manuscript. L.M. and R.B. critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript version.

Data Availability Statement

The datasets used and analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

From https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/518316

Novel Predictive Model for Adrenal Insufficiency in Dermatological Patients with Topical Corticosteroids Use: A Cross-Sectional Study

Purpose: This study aimed to identify predictive factors and to develop a predictive model for adrenal insufficiency (AI) related to topical corticosteroids use.
Methods: The research was conducted using a cross-sectional design. Adult patients with dermatological conditions who had been prescribed topical steroids for at least 12 months by the dermatology outpatient departments of the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University from June through October 2020 were included. Data on potential predictors, including baseline characteristics and laboratory investigations, were collected. The diagnoses of AI were based on serum 8AM cortisol and low-dose ACTH stimulation tests. Multivariable logistic regression was used for the derivation of the diagnostic score.
Results: Of the 42 patients, 17 (40.5%) had AI. The statistically significant predictive factors for AI were greater body surface area of corticosteroids use, age < 60 years, and basal serum cortisol < 7 μg/dL. In the final predictive model, duration of treatment was added as a factor based on its clinical significance for AI. The four predictive factors with their assigned scores were: body surface area involvement 10– 30% (20), > 30% (25); age < 60 years old (15); basal serum cortisol of < 7 μg/dL (30); and duration of treatment in years. Risk of AI was categorized into three groups, low, intermediate and high risk, with total scores of < 25, 25– 49 and ≥ 50, respectively. The predictive performance for the model was 0.92 based on area under the curve.
Conclusion: The predictive model for AI in patients using topical corticosteroids provides guidance on the risk of AI to determine which patients should have dynamic ACTH stimulation tests (high risk) and which need only close follow-up (intermediate and low risk). Future validation of the model is warranted.

Keywords: adrenal insufficiency, topical corticosteroids, predictive model, skin diseases

Introduction

Topical corticosteroids are frequently used for inflammatory skin diseases owing to their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects. Common indications for use include diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, atopic dermatitis, and vitiligo.1 In clinical practice, a variety of delivery vehicles and potencies of topical corticosteroids are used.1 Prolonged and/or inappropriate use of topical corticosteroids can lead to adverse side effects.2 These adverse side effects can be categorized as cutaneous and systemic side effects. The most common cutaneous side effect is skin atrophy. Systemic side effects include hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis suppression, glaucoma, hyperglycemia and hypertension.3

One of the most worrisome adverse side effects from the use of topical corticosteroids is adrenal insufficiency (AI) resulting from HPA axis suppression. Topically applied corticosteroids can be absorbed systemically through the skin and can suppress the HPA axis.4–8 This adverse outcome, the inability to increase cortisol production after stress, can lead to adrenal crisis, which is potentially life-threatening. Tests that are normally used to diagnose or exclude AI include serum morning cortisol and the dynamic ACTH stimulation test.9

Secondary AI from percutaneous absorption of topical corticosteroids is less common than with parenteral or oral administration. The cumulative doses and the durations of oral corticosteroid therapy associated with HPA axis suppression have been well documented.10 Data regarding the dose and duration of oral corticosteroids and HPA axis suppression have similarly been well established. A study by Curtis et al reported that the use of oral prednisolone >7.5 mg/day for an extended period (>3 weeks) was linked to this adverse event, and that the incidence increased with duration.10 However, corresponding data for topical corticosteroids has been limited. The degree of risk of HPA axis suppression from topical corticosteroids use is associated with the level of percutaneous absorption which, in turn, depends on numerous factors including the age of the patient (younger patients are more susceptible), body surface area treated, quantity of topical corticosteroids used, potency of the drug, duration of therapy, body region of application, the associated compounds used, eg, urea or salicylic acid, the characteristics of the diseased skin, the degree of impairment of skin integrity, and the coexistence of hepatic and/or renal disease.11–13 One study reported that HPA axis suppression occurs when high potency steroids are administered at a cumulative dose per week of >50 g.2

Presently, there is a lack of data on predictive factors for AI and no predicative model of the relationship between secondary AI resulting from HPA axis suppression and topical corticosteroids use. A simple predictive model which could help preclude and predict the risk of AI which incorporates both demographic and biochemical data could potentially reduce the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests performed. This study aimed to identify potential predictive factors and to design an easy-to-use model for predicting the risk of AI following topical corticosteroids use in dermatological patients.

Materials and Methods

This cross-sectional study was conducted with 42 patients who were seen at the dermatology outpatient departments at the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University Hospital over a 5-month period (June – October 2020). The study protocol was approved by the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, Ethical Committee (Ethical number: MED-2563-07037). Recruited participants were adult dermatological patients (≥18 years) who had used topical corticosteroids for at least 12 months. Patients with pituitary or adrenal diseases, pregnant women and patients who had been treated with either systemic corticosteroids or other local corticosteroids were excluded. Those who meet all the inclusion criteria gave their informed consent prior to the study. This study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Adrenal Function Evaluation

Adrenal function was evaluated by serum morning (8 AM) cortisol and the low-dose ACTH stimulation test. Patients were instructed to suspend use of topical corticosteroids for at least 24 hours before serum morning cortisol measurement and ACTH stimulation tests. In those with serum morning cortisol between 3 and 17.9 µg/dL, ACTH stimulation tests were performed on the same day between 9–11AM to either exclude or diagnose AI. Serum cortisol concentrations were measured at 8 AM 0 (basal cortisol) as well as 20 and 40 minutes after 5 µg ACTH was administered intravenously.

Data Collection

Epidemiological data collected included gender, age, blood pressure, underlying dermatologic diseases, other underlying diseases, body surface area involvement, sensitive area involvement, topical corticosteroid potency, amount and duration of topical corticosteroids use, symptoms of AI and the presence of Cushingoid features. Biochemical data included serum cortisol at 8 AM, 0 (basal cortisol) and at 20 and 40 minutes after ACTH intravenous injection, serum creatinine, electrolytes and albumin. Serum cortisol levels were measured by electrochemiluminescence assay (ECLIA) (Elecsys® Cortisol II assay, Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Mannheim, Germany).

Definitions

An 8AM cortisol level of ❤ µg/dL or a peak serum cortisol level of <18 µg/dL at 20 or 40 minutes after an ACTH stimulation test was defined as having AI.14 Sensitive area involvement included the axilla, groin, face and genitalia. Topical corticosteroids are classified by potency based on a skin vasoconstriction assay, and range from ultra-high potency (class I) to low potency (class VII).15 Since some patients had concurrently used more than one class of corticosteroids in one treatment period, the new variable potency·dose·time (summary of corticosteroids potency (I–VII)16 multiplied by total doses (mg) of corticosteroids use and multiplied by duration (months) of corticosteroids use) was created. Symptoms of AI included lethargy, nausea and vomiting, orthostatic hypotension and significant weight loss. Significant weight loss was defined as a loss of 5% of body weight in one month or a loss of 10% over a period of six months.17 Having Cushingoid features was defined as at least one of the excess glucocorticoid features, eg, easy bruising, facial plethora, proximal myopathy, striae, dorsocervical fat pad, facial fullness, obesity, supraclavicular fullness, hirsutism, decreased libido and menstrual abnormalities.

Statistical Analysis

All statistical analyses were performed using Stata 16 (StataCorp, College Station, Texas, USA). Categorical variables are reported as frequency and percentage, while continuous variables are reported as mean ± standard deviation or median and interquartile range (IQR), according to their distribution. For univariable comparison, Fisher’s exact probability test was used for categorical variables, and the independent t-test or the Mann–Whitney U-test was used for continuous variables. p-values less than 0.05 were considered statistically significant.

Multivariable logistic regression was used in the derivation of the prediction model for AI. Predictors with significant p-values in the univariable analysis were included in the multivariable model. We also included age and treatment duration in the model due to the clinical significance of those factors.4,18 The clinical collinearity among the predictors was also evaluated before the selection of the predictors. We generated a weighted score for each predictor by dividing the logit coefficient of the predictor by the lowest coefficient in the model. The discriminative ability of the final multivariable model was assessed using the area under the receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curve. The calibration of the scores was evaluated using the Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit test, where a p-value >0.01 was considered a good fit. For clinical applicability, the appropriate cut-off points for the scores were identified based on sensitivity and specificity. We identified one cut-off point with high sensitivity for ruling out AI and another cut-off point with high specificity for ruling in AI. The positive predictive value for each score category with its corresponding confidence interval were presented. A sample size of at least 25 patients with at least 5 patients with AI was estimated to give 80% power at the 5% significance level.4 There was no missing data in this study.

Results

Baseline characteristics and biochemical investigations are shown in Table 1. Forty-two patients with dermatological diseases were included in this study. Of these, 17 patients (40.5%) had AI of whom 5 (29.4%) were female. The mean age of the group was 56.5 ±15.4 years, the mean duration of treatment was 10.1 ± 6 years, and the majority of patients had psoriasis (n = 14, 82.4%). There was no significant difference in sex, age, duration of treatment, potency dose-time, comorbidities, or underlying skin disease between the AI and non-AI groups. The average body surface area of corticosteroids use was significantly higher in patients with AI than in the non-AI group (27.5 ±18.7 m2 and 10.7 ±11.7 m2, p < 0.001, respectively). Basal serum cortisol levels were significantly lower in the AI group (6.52 ± 4.04 µg/dL) than in the non-AI group (10.48 ± 3.45 µg/dL, p 0.003). Although lower serum morning cortisol levels were observed in the AI group, the difference was not statistically significant (5.24 ± 4.65 µg/dL vs 13.39 ± 15.68 µg/dL, p = 0.069). Three patients were identified as having Cushingoid features. All patients with Cushingoid features had AI.

Table 1 Comparison of Clinical Characteristics Between Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months Who Were Diagnosed with Adrenal Insufficiency and Those without Adrenal Insufficiency (n = 42)

 

Based on the multivariate logistic regression analysis (shown in Table 2), the significant predictive factors for AI in patients who used topical corticosteroids for more than 12 months were body surface area of corticosteroids use of 10–30% and >30% (POR 18.9, p =0.042, and POR 59.2, p = 0.035, respectively), age less than 60 years (POR 13.8, p = 0.04), and basal serum cortisol of <7 µg/dL (POR 131.5, p = 0.003). Only serum basal cortisol was included in the final multivariable model as there was clinical collinearity among serum morning cortisol and basal cortisol as well as 20- and 40-minute cortisol measurements.

Table 2 Multivariable Model for Prediction of Adrenal Insufficiency in Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months (n = 38)

 

Predictive risk score was created to determine the probability of patients having AI using the aforementioned three significant predictive factors from the multivariable analysis (Table 2). As previous studies have demonstrated that duration of treatment is a strong predictive factor for AI in corticosteroid users,4,18 this factor was also incorporated in the model. The transformed score for body surface area, age and basal serum cortisol had a range of 0 to 30. For treatment duration, the transformed score was based on cumulative years of treatment. The total score was categorized into three groups: low, intermediate, and high risk (Table 3).

Table 3 Accuracy of the Score to Rule in and Rule Out Adrenal Insufficiency in Patients with a History of Topical Corticosteroids Use for at Least 12 Months (n = 38)

 

The cut-off point of ≥50 suggests high risk for developing AI with a sensitivity of 46.2% and a specificity of 100%, a score of <25 suggests a low risk with a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 52%, and a score between 25 and 49 indicates an intermediate risk of having AI. The ROC curve for the model assessing predictive performance which included all significant factors had an AuROC of 0.92 (Figure 1). The Hosmer-Lemeshow goodness-of-fit test revealed non-statistically significant results (p = 0.599), indicating that our newly derived scoring system fits the data well.

Figure 1 Model discrimination via receiver operating characteristic curve in patients with a history of topical corticosteroids use for at least 12 months (n = 42).

 

Discussion

The present study proposes an easy-to-use predictive model for AI following topical corticosteroids use in dermatological patients based on demographic and biochemical factors. The accuracy of the model shows an excellent diagnostic accuracy of 92% based on AuROC. Currently, the diagnosis of AI in dermatological patients with topical corticosteroids use involves multiple steps including screening for serum morning cortisol followed by dynamic ACTH stimulation testing. The proposed simple predictive model, which requires only three demographic data items (age, body surface area of corticosteroids use, duration of use) and one biochemical test (serum basal cortisol), could potentially reduce the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests performed, resulting in cost- and time-saving for both patients and health-care facilities.

Based on the proposed cut-off points, we suggest screening of individuals at high risk for having AI, including serum morning cortisol and the ACTH stimulation tests to confirm a diagnosis of AI. If there is evidence of AI, the patient should begin to receive treatment for AI to reduce future complications. For those in the low-risk group, only clinical follow-up should be carried out. In the intermediate-risk group, we recommend regular and close biochemical follow-up including serum morning cortisol and clinical follow-up for signs and symptoms of AI. Signs and symptoms that should raise a high index of suspicion for AI include significant weight loss, nausea and/or vomiting, orthostatic hypotension and lethargy. However, this proposed predictive model was studied in adults and cannot simply be generalized and extrapolated to children or infants.

In our study, 40.5% of the patients were determined to have AI. A previous meta-analysis by Broersen et al reported the percentage of patients with AI secondary to all potencies of topical corticosteroids based on a review of 15 studies was 4.7%, 95% CI (1.1–18.5%).19 The higher prevalence of AI in our study could be a result of differences in patients’ baseline characteristics, eg, duration of treatment, corticosteroids potency and body surface area involvement.

In the predictive model, we incorporated both clinical and biochemical factors which are easy to obtain in actual clinical practice. Some of those predictive factors have been previously reported to be linked to AI. Body surface area of corticosteroids use larger than 10% found to be significantly related to AI, especially in patients with a lesion area of over 30%. This finding is consistent with a study by Kerner et al which suggests the extent of surface area to which the corticosteroids are applied may influence absorption of the drug.20 Regarding the age of the patients, our study found that individuals over 60 years old tended to be at high risk of AI following topical corticosteroids therapy. The underlying explanation is that the stratum corneum acts as a rate-limiting barrier to percutaneous absorption as the stratum corneum in younger individuals is thinner than in older people. Diminished effectiveness of topical corticosteroid treatment in older people was demonstrated in a study by Malzfeldt et al.21 Even though serum basal cortisol is not recommended as a standard test to diagnose AI, a prior study reported that it can be considered as an alternative choice to diagnose AI when serum morning cortisol results are not available. In fact, it has been reported that there is no difference in diagnostic accuracy between serum morning cortisol and basal cortisol22 which supports our finding that serum basal cortisol <7 µg/dL is one of the significant factors related to AI.

The final model found no statistically significant relationship between the incidence of AI and the duration of corticosteroids treatment. However, we decided to include this factor in the final model since previous publications have reported that the duration of treatment is a relevant risk factor for developing AI following continuous topical corticosteroids use. The duration of AI events has been reported to vary between 2 weeks to 18 months.4,18 Additionally, a case report of AI demonstrated that 5 years of topical corticosteroids use can cause AI.6 Together, this suggests that patients with a longer duration of topical corticosteroids use are at increased risk of AI, especially those who also have other risk factors. Although both potency and dosage of topical corticosteroids have been reported to be significantly linked to HPA axis suppression, the present study found only a non-significance link. This could be the result of the small sample size as well as of other factors, eg, body surface area involvement and serum cortisol levels, which could have masked the association between potency and dosage of topical corticosteroids with HPA suppression.

To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to use these novel predictive factors to develop a predictive model for AI in patients using topical corticosteroids. This model has multiple potential implications. First, the model uses clinical and biochemical factors which are obtainable in many institutes. Second, the model’s risk score provides good diagnostic accuracy in terms of both sensitivity and specificity. Finally, each of the predictive factors in the model has an underlying pathophysiological explanation and is not due simply to chance.

There are some limitations in this study. First, the sample size is relatively small, although it does offer sufficient statistical power for each of the predictive factors. Second, further external validation is needed to validate the predictive performance of the model. Third, the cut-off level of serum cortisol after ACTH stimulation test was based on the older generation of ECLIA assay. There was a study proposed that the cut-off for serum cortisol in the newer generation of cortisol assay should be lower (~14–15 µg/dL) than the previous one (18 µg/dL).23 However, this proposed cut-off has not yet been established in the current guideline for AI. In the future, if the newer cut-off for serum cortisol will have been employed in the standard guideline, our predictive model may lead to overdiagnosis of AI.

Conclusions

The proposed predictive model uses both demographic and biochemical factors to determine the risk of AI in dermatological patients following topical corticosteroids use with a high level of diagnostic accuracy. This model has advantages in terms of a reduction in the number of dynamic ACTH stimulation tests needed, thus saving time and resources. Additionally, it can provide guidance to clinical practitioners regarding which patients should be closely followed up for development of AI. Future external validation of this predictive model is warranted.

Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to Lamar G. Robert, PhD and Chongchit S. Robert, PhD for editing the manuscript.

Disclosure

The authors report no conflict of interest in this work.

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