Unilateral andrenalectomy may be valid first-line treatment for Cushing’s syndrome

Debillon E, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2015;doi:10.1210/jc.2015-2662.

In patients with evident Cushing’s syndrome related to primary bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia, unilateral adrenalectomy of the large gland appears to be a suitable alternative to bilateral adrenalectomy as a first-line treatment, according to recent findings.

Unilateral adrenalectomy yielded normalized urinary free cortisol and improved Cushing’s syndrome, according to the researchers.

Olivier Chabre , MD, PhD, of the Service d’Endocrinologie-Diabétologie-Nutrition in France, and colleagues evaluated all patients (n = 15) with overt Cushing’s syndrome related to primary bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia who underwent unilateral laparoscopic adrenalectomy of the larger gland between 2001 and 2015. Patients were seen for clinical and biological follow-up assessments at 1, 3 and 6 months postoperatively, 5 years after surgery and at the time of the last available urinary free cortisol measurement.

The study’s primary outcome measures were pre- and postoperative levels of urinary free cortisol, plasma cortisol, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), BMI, blood pressure, plasma glucose and lipids and measurements of these values on follow-up assessments. Patients were followed for a median of 60 months.

The researchers found that in early postoperative measurements, all 15 patients who underwent unilateral adrenalectomy achieved normal or low urinary free cortisol. Between 7 days and 1 month, there was a decrease in median urinary free cortisol from 2.19 times the upper limit of normal (ULN) at baseline to 0.27 ULN (P = .001). At 1 month, only one patient had elevated urinary free cortisol, and this patient went into remission by month 3 and continued to be in remission after 12 years of follow-up.

Forty percent of the patients developed adrenal insufficiency after unilateral adrenalectomy and latent adrenal insufficiency could not be excluded in two of the other patients. No predictors of postoperative adrenal insufficiency were identified.

Six of the patients had diabetes before unilateral adrenalectomy surgery; four of those were treated with antidiabetes drugs. At 12 months, only two of these patients had a continued need for antidiabetes drugs and had reductions in HbA1c despite decreases in their treatment. Recurrence occurred in two patients, demonstrating urinary free cortisol above the ULN at 7 years postoperatively and 8 years postoperatively. Both cases required treatment with mitotane, and in one of the patients, adrenalectomy of the second gland was required 9 years after the initial adrenalectomy.

According to the researchers, postoperative management and vigilant follow-up is needed in order to monitor patients for the risk for adrenal insufficiency.

“Further prospective studies are needed to better evaluate the long-term benefits of [unilateral adrenalectomy], which has one major benefit over [bilateral adrenalectomy]: if needed, [unilateral adrenalectomy] can be transformed in [bilateral adrenalectomy], while the opposite is obviously not true,” the researchers wrote. “One could propose that in further prospective studies [bilateral adrenalectomy] could be performed only if [unilateral adrenalectomy] fails to normalize [urinary free cortisol] at 1 month postoperatively.” – by Jennifer Byrne

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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