Cushing’s Disease—Monthly Injection Is Good Alternative to Surgery

Written by Kathleen Doheny with Maria Fleseriu, MD, FACE, and Vivien Herman-Bonert, MD

Cushing’s disease, an uncommon but hard to treat endocrine disorder, occurs when a tumor on the pituitary gland, called an adenoma—that is almost always benign—leads to an overproduction of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which is responsible for stimulating the release of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

Until now, surgery to remove the non-cancerous but problematic tumor has been the only effective treatment. Still, many patients will require medication to help control their serum cortisol levels, and others cannot have surgery or would prefer to avoid it.

Finally, a drug proves effective as added on or alternative to surgery in managing Cushing’s disease. Photo; 123rf

New Drug Offers Alternative to Surgery for Cushing’s Disease

Now, there is good news about long-term positive results achieved with pasireotide (Signifor)—the first medication to demonstrate effectiveness in both normalizing serum cortisol levels and either shrinking or slowing growth of tumors over the long term.1,2  These findings appear in the journal, Clinical Endocrinology, showing that patients followed for 36 months as part of an ongoing study had improved patient outcomes for Cushing’s disease.2

“What we knew before this extension study was—the drug will work in approximately half of the patients with mild Cushing’s disease,” says study author Maria Fleseriu, MD, FACE, director of the Northwest Pituitary Center and professor of neurological surgery and medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and clinical nutrition at the Oregon Health and Sciences University School of Medicine.

“Pasireotide also offers good clinical benefits,” says Dr. Fleseriu who is also the president of the Pituitary Society, “which includes improvements in blood pressure, other signs and symptoms of Cushing’s symptom], and quality of life.”2

What Symptoms Are Helped by Drug for Cushing’s Disease?  

Among the signs and symptoms of Cushing’s disease that are lessened with treatment are:3

  • Changes in physical appearance such as wide, purple stretch marks on the skin (eg, chest, armpits, abdomen, thighs)
  • Rapid and unexplained weight gain
  • A more full, rounder face
  • Protruding abdomen from fat deposits
  • Increased fat deposits around the neck area

The accumulation of adipose tissue raises the risk of heart disease, which adds to the urgency of effective treatment. In addition, many individuals who have Cushing’s disease also complain of quality of life issues such as fatigue, depression, mood and behavioral problems, as well as poor memory.2

As good as the results appear following the longer term use of pasireotide,2 Dr. Fleseriu admits that in any extension study in which patients are asked to continue on, there are some built-in limitations, which may influence the findings. For example, patients who agree to stay on do so because they are good responders, meaning they feel better, so they’re happy to stick with the study.

“Fortunately, for the patients who have responded to pasireotide initially, this is a drug that can be  continued as there are no new safety signals with longer use,” Dr. Fleseriu tells EndocrineWeb, “and when the response at the start is good, very few patients will lose control of their urinary free cortisol over time. That’s a frequent marker used to monitor patient’s status. For those patients with large tumors, almost half of them had a significant shrinkage, and all the others had a stable tumor size.”

What Are the Reasons to Consider Drug Treatment to Manage Cushing’s Symptoms

The extension study ”was important because we didn’t have any long-term data regarding patient response to this once-a-month treatment to manage Cushing’s disease,” she says.

While selective surgical removal of the tumor is the preferred treatment choice, the success rate in patients varies, and Cushing’s symptoms persist in up to 35% of patients after surgery. In addition, recurrent rates (ie, return of disease) range from 13% to 66% after individuals experience different durations remaining in remission.1

Therefore, the availability of an effective, long-lasting drug will change the course of therapy for many patients with Cushing’s disease going forward. Not only will pasireotide benefit patients who have persistent and recurrent disease after undergoing surgery, but also this medication will be beneficial for those who are not candidates for surgery or just wish to avoid having this procedure, he said.

Examining the Safety and Tolerability of Pasireotide  

This long-acting therapy, pasireotide, which is given by injection, was approved in the US after reviewing results of a 12-month Phase 3 trial.1  In the initial study, participants had a confirmed pituitary cause of the Cushing’s disease. After that, the researchers added the optional 12-month open-label, extension study, and now patients can continue on in a separate long-term safety study.

Those eligible for the 12-month extension had to have mean urinary free cortisol not exceeding the upper limit of normal (166.5 nanomoles per 24 hour) and/or be considered by the investigator to be getting substantial clinical benefit from treatment with long-action pasireotide, and to demonstrate tolerability of pasireotide during the core study.1

Of the 150 in the initial trial, 81 participants, or 54% of the patients, entered the extension study. Of those, 39 completed the next phase, and most also enrolled in another long-term safety study—these results not yet available).2

During the core study, 1 participants were randomly assigned to 10 or 30 mg of the drug every 28 days, with doses based on effectiveness and tolerability. When they entered the extension, patients were given the same dose they received at month.1,2

Study Outcomes Offer Advantages in Cushing’s Disease

Of those who received 36 months of treatment with pasireotide, nearly three in four (72.2%) had controlled levels of urinary free cortisol at this time point.2 Equally good news for this drug was that tumors either shrank or did not grow. Of those individuals who started the trial with a measurable tumor (adenoma) as well as those with an adenoma at the two year mark (35 people), 85.7% of them experienced a reduction of 20% or more or less than a 20% change in tumor volume. No  macroadenomas present at the start of the study showed a change of more than 20% at either month 24 or 36.2

Improvements in blood pressure, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference continued throughout the extension study.1  Those factors influence CVD risk, the leading cause of death in those with Cushing’s.4

As for adverse events, most of the study participants, 91.4%, did report one or more complaint during the extension study—most commonly, it was high blood sugar, which was reported by nearly 40% of participants.2. This is not surprising when you consider that most (81.5%) of the individuals participating in the extension trial entered with a diagnosis of diabetes or use of antidiabetic medication, and even more of them (88.9%) had diabetes at the last evaluation.1  

This complication indicates the need for people with Cushing’s disease to check their blood glucose, as appropriate.

Do You Have Cushing’s Disese [sic]? Here’s What You Need to Know 

Women typically develop Cushing’s disease more often than men.

What else should you be aware of if you and your doctor decide this medication will help you? Monitoring is crucial, says Dr. Fleseriu, as you will need to have your cortisol levels checked, and you should be on alert for any diabetes signals, which will require close monitoring and regular follow-up for disease management.

Another understanding gained from the results of this drug study: “This medication works on the tumor level,” she says. “If the patient has a macroadenoma (large tumor), this would be the preferred treatment.” However, it should be used with caution in those with diabetes given the increased risk of experiencing high blood sugar.

The researchers conclude that “the long-term safety profile of pasireotide was very favorable and consistent with that reported during the first 12 months of treatment. These data support the use of long-acting pasireotide as an effective long-term treatment option for some patients with Cushing’s Disease.”1

Understanding Benefits of New Drug to Treat Cushing’s Diseease [sic]

Vivien S. Herman-Bonert, MD, an endocrinologist and clinical director of the Pituitary Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, agreed to discuss the study findings, after agreeing to review the research for EndocrineWeb.

As to who might benefit most from monthly pasireotide injections? Dr. Herman-Bonert says, “any patient with Cushing’s disease that requires long-term medical therapy, which includes patients with persistent or recurrent disease after surgery.” Certainly, anyone who has had poor response to any other medical therapies for Cushing’s disease either because they didn’t work well enough or because the side effects were too much, will likely benefit a well, she adds.

Among the pluses that came out of the study, she says, is that nearly half of the patients had controlled average urinary free cortisol levels after two full years, and 72% of the participants who continued on with the drug for 36 months were able to remain in good urinary cortisol control .1

As the authors stated, tumor shrinkage was another clear benefit of taking long-term pasireotide. That makes the drug a potentially good choice for those even with large tumors or with progressive tumor growth, she says. It’s always good for anyone with Cushing’s disease to have an alterative [sic] to surgery, or a back-up option when surgery isn’t quite enough, says Dr. Herman-Bonert.

The best news for patients is that quality of life scores improved,she adds.

Dr Herman-Bonert did add a note of caution: Although the treatment in this study is described as ”long-term, patients will need to be on this for far longer than 2 to 3 years,” she says. So, the data reported in this study may or may not persist, and we don’t yet know what the impact will be 10 or 25 years out.

Also, the issue of hyperglycemia-related adverse events raises a concern, given the vast majority (81%) of patients who have both Cushing’s disease and diabetes. Most of those taking this drug had a dual diagnosis—having diabetes, a history of diabetes, or taking antidiabetic medicine.

If you are under care for diabetes and you require treatment for Cushing’s disease, you must be ver mindful that taking pasireotide will likely lead to high blood sugar spikes, so you should plan to address this with your healthcare provider.

 

Dr. Fleseriu reports research support paid to Oregon Health & Science University from Novartis and other 0companies and consultancy fees from Novartis and Strongbridge Biopharma. Dr. Herman-Bonert has no relevant disclosures.

The study was underwritten by Novartis Pharma AG, the drug maker. 

From https://www.endocrineweb.com/news/pituitary-disorders/62449-cushings-disease-monthly-injection-good-alternative-surgery

Researchers Report Rare Case of Cushing’s Caused by Bilateral Adrenal Tumors

Cases of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-independent Cushing’s syndrome are often caused by unilateral tumors in the adrenal glands, but Indian researchers have now reported a rare case where the condition was caused by tumors in both adrenal glands.

Fewer than 40 cases of bilateral tumors have been reported so far, but an accurate diagnosis is critical for adequate and prompt treatment. Sampling the veins draining the adrenal glands may be a good way to diagnose the condition, researchers said.

The study, “Bilateral adrenocortical adenomas causing adrenocorticotropic hormone-independent Cushing’s syndrome: A case report and review of the literature,” was published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases.

Cushing’s syndrome, a condition characterized by excess cortisol in circulation, can be divided into two main forms, depending on ACTH status. Some patients have tumors that increase the amount of ACTH in the body, and this hormone will act on the adrenal glands to produce cortisol in excess. Others have tumors in the adrenal glands, which produce excess cortisol by themselves, without requiring ACTH activation. This is known as ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome.

Among the latter, the disease is mostly caused by unilateral tumors — in one adrenal gland only —  with cases of bilateral tumors being extremely rare in this population.

Now, researchers reported the case of a 31-year-old Indian woman who developed ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome because of tumors in both adrenal glands.

The patient complained of weight gain, red face, moon face, bruising, and menstrual irregularity for the past two years. She recently had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and had started treatment the month prior to the presentation.

A physical examination confirmed obesity in her torso, moon face, buffalo hump, thin skin, excessive hair growth, acne, swollen legs and feet, and skin striae on her abdomen, arms, and legs.

Laboratory examinations showed that the woman had an impaired tolerance to glucose, excess insulin, and elevated cortisol in both the blood and urine. Consistent with features of Cushing’s syndrome, cortisol levels had no circadian rhythm and were non-responsive to a dexamethasone test, which in normal circumstances lowers cortisol production.

Because ACTH levels were within normal levels, researchers suspected an adrenal tumor, which led them to conduct imaging scans.

An abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan showed adrenal adenomas in both adrenal glands (right: 3.1 cm × 2.0 cm × 1.9 cm; left: 2.2 cm × 1.9 cm × 2.1 cm). A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed that the pituitary gland (which normally produces ACTH) was normal.

To determine whether both adrenal tumors were producing cortisol, researchers sampled the adrenal veins and compared their cortisol levels to those of peripheral veins. They found that the left adrenal gland was producing higher amounts of cortisol, thought the right adrenal gland was also producing cortisol in excess.

“Our case indicates that adrenal vein [blood] sampling might be useful for obtaining differential diagnoses” in cases of Cushing’s syndrome, researchers stated. Also, they may help design a surgical plan that makes much more sense.”

The tumors were surgically removed — first the left, and three months later the right — which alleviated many of her symptoms. She also started prednisolone treatment, which helped resolve many disease symptoms.

“Bilateral cortisol-secreting tumors are a rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome,” researchers said. So when patients present bilateral adrenal lesions, “it is crucial to make a definitive diagnosis before operation since various treatments are prescribed for different causes,” they said.

The team recommends that in such cases the two tumors should not be removed at the same time, as this approach may cause adrenal insufficiency and the need for glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/06/27/rare-case-of-cs-due-to-bilateral-tumors-in-the-adrenal-glands/

Post-traumatic Stress Symptoms Common in Cushing’s Patients Before Surgery

Patients with Cushing’s disease may develop post-traumatic stress symptoms, which are generally resolved once they undergo surgery to remove the tumor, but can persist in some cases, a study shows.

The study, “Posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) in patients with Cushing’s disease before and after surgery: A prospective study,” was published in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience.

Cushing’s disease is an endocrine disorder characterized by excess secretion of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) by a pituitary adenoma (tumor of the pituitary gland). This leads to high levels of cortisol, a condition known as hypercortisolism.

Chronic hypercortisolism is associated with symptoms such as central obesity, buffalo hump, body bruising, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and weak bones.

Additionally, patients can develop psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and cognitive dysfunction, all of which contribute considerably to a lower health-related quality of life.

Depression and anxiety rates are particularly high in Cushing’s disease patients, with 54% of them experiencing major depression and 79% having anxiety.

Due to the significant impact of psychological factors in these patients, they may be susceptible to post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). But more information on this phenomenon in these patients is still needed.

To address this lack of data, a group of Chinese researchers conducted a prospective study to investigate the occurrence, correlated factors, and prognosis of PTSS in patients with Cushing’s disease.

A total of 49 patients newly diagnosed with Cushing’s disease who underwent transsphenoidal removal of the tumor as their first-line treatment were asked to participate in this study. Another group of 49 age- and sex-matched healthy individuals were included as controls.

PTSS was measured using the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R), depression/anxiety were measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale (HADS), and quality of life was measured using the 36-item short-form (SF-36). These parameters were measured before surgery, and then at six and 12 months after the procedure.

Before surgery, 15 patients (30.6%) had PTSS. These patients also had higher cortisol levels, worse levels of depression/anxiety, and worse quality of life scores than those without PTSS.

While most of the patients recovered after the operation, there were five (33.3%) for whom PTSS persisted for more than a year.

Additionally, one patient who had a recurrence of Cushing’s disease developed PTSS between six and 12 months after the first surgery.

PTSS severity showed consistent improvement after surgery, which was correlated with better depression/anxiety scores and psychological aspects of the SF-36. However, Cushing’s disease patients in remission still performed worse than healthy individuals concerning their physical and mental health.

Therefore, “patients with [Cushing’s disease] can develop PTSS, and they may persist for over a year even after successful surgery. Combined psychological intervention is advised for these patients,” the researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/06/25/cushings-patients-often-have-post-traumatic-stress-symptoms

New discoveries offer possible Cushing’s disease cure

LOS ANGELES — More than a century has passed since the neurosurgeon and pathologist Harvey Cushing first discovered the disease that would eventually bear his name, but only recently have several key discoveries offered patients with the condition real hope for a cure, according to a speaker here.

There are several challenges clinicians confront in the diagnosis and treatment of Cushing’s disease, Shlomo Melmed, MB, ChB, FRCP, MACP, dean, executive vice president and professor of medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said during a plenary presentation. Patients who present with Cushing’s disease typically have depression, impaired mental function and hypertension and are at high risk for stroke, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, dyslipidemia and other metabolic disorders, Melmed said. Available therapies, which range from surgery and radiation to the somatostatin analogue pasireotide (Signifor LAR, Novartis), are often followed by disease recurrence. Cushing’s disease is fatal without treatment; the median survival if uncontrolled is about 4.5 years, Melmed said.

“This truly is a metabolic, malignant disorder,” Melmed said. “The life expectancy today in patients who are not controlled is apparently no different from 1930.”

The outlook for Cushing’s disease is now beginning to change, Melmed said. New targets are emerging for treatment, and newly discovered molecules show promise in reducing the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and pituitary tumor size.

“Now, we are seeing the glimmers of opportunity and optimism, that we can identify specific tumor drivers — SST5, [epidermal growth factor] receptor, cyclin inhibitors — and we can start thinking about personalized, precision treatment for these patients with a higher degree of efficacy and optimism than we could have even a year or 2 ago,” Melmed said. “This will be an opportunity for us to broaden the horizons of our investigations into this debilitating disorder.”

Challenges in diagnosis, treatment

Overall, about 10% of the U.S. population harbors a pituitary adenoma, the most common type of pituitary disorder, although the average size is only about 6 mm and 40% of them are not visible, Melmed said. In patients with Cushing’s disease, surgery is effective in only about 60% to 70% of patients for initial remission, and overall, there is about a 60% chance of recurrence depending on the surgery center, Melmed said. Radiation typically leads to hypopituitarism, whereas surgical or biochemical adrenalectomy is associated with adverse effects and morbidity. Additionally, the clinical features of hypercortisolemia overlap with many common illnesses, such as obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes.

“There are thousands of those patients for every patient with Cushing’s disease who we will encounter,” Melmed said.

The challenge for the treating clinician, Melmed said, is to normalize cortisol and ACTH with minimal morbidity, to resect the tumor mass or control tumor growth, preserve pituitary function, improve quality of life and achieve long-term control without recurrence.

“This is a difficult challenge to meet for all of us,” Melmed said.

Available options

Pituitary surgery is typically the first-line option offered to patients with Cushing’s disease, Melmed said, and there are several advantages, including rapid initial remission, a one-time cost and potentially curing the disease. However, there are several disadvantages with surgery; patients undergoing surgery are at risk for postoperative venous thromboembolism, persistent hypersecretion of ACTH, adenoma persistence or recurrence, and surgical complications.

Second-line options are repeat surgery, radiation, adrenalectomy or medical therapy, each with its own sets of pros and cons, Melmed said.

“The reality of Cushing’s disease — these patients undergo first surgery and then recur, second surgery and then recur, then maybe radiation and then recur, and then they develop a chronic illness, and this chronic illness is what leads to their demise,” Melmed said. “Medical therapy is appropriate at every step of the spectrum.”

Zebrafish clues

Searching for new options, Melmed and colleagues introduced a pituitary tumor transforming gene discovered in his lab into zebrafish, which caused the fish to develop the hallmark features of Cushing’s disease: high cortisol levels, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In the fish models, researchers observed that cyclin E activity, which drives the production of ACTH, was high.

Melmed and colleagues then screened zebrafish larvae in a search for cyclin E inhibitors to derive a therapeutic molecule and discovered R-roscovitine, shown to repress the expression of proopiomelanocortin (POMC), the pituitary precursor of ACTH.

In fish, mouse and in vitro human cell models, treatment with R-roscovitine was associated with suppressed corticotroph tumor signaling and blocked ACTH production, Melmed said.

“Furthermore, we asked whether or not roscovitine would actually block transcription of the POMC gene,” Melmed said. “It does. We had this molecule (that) suppressed cyclin E and also blocks transcription of POMC leading to blocked production of ACTH.”

In a small, open-label, proof-of-principal study, four patients with Cushing’s disease who received roscovitine for 4 weeks developed normalized urinary free cortisol, Melmed said.

Currently, the FDA Office of Orphan Products Development is funding a multicenter, phase 2, open-label clinical trial that will evaluate the safety and efficacy of two of three potential doses of oral roscovitine (seliciclib) in patients with newly diagnosed, persistent or recurrent Cushing disease. Up to 29 participants will be treated with up to 800 mg per day of oral seliciclib for 4 days each week for 4 weeks and enrolled in sequential cohorts based on efficacy outcomes.

“Given the rarity of the disorder, it will probably take us 2 to 3 years to recruit patients to give us a robust answer,” Melmed said. “This zebrafish model was published in 2011, and we are now in 2019. It has taken us 8 years from publication of the data to, today, going into humans with Cushing’s. Hopefully, this will light the pathway for a phase 2 trial.”

 Offering optimism’

Practitioners face a unique paradigm when treating patients with Cushing’s disease, Melmed said. Available first- and second-line therapy options often are not a cure for many patients, who develop multimorbidity and report a low quality of life.

“Then, we are kept in this difficult cycle of what to do next and, eventually, running out of options,” Melmed said. “Now, we can look at novel, targeted molecules and add those to our armamentarium and at least offer our patients the opportunity to participate in trials, or at least offer the optimism that, over the coming years, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel for their disorder.”

Melmed compared the work to Lucas Cranach’s Fons Juventutis (The Fountain of Youth). The painting, completed in 1446, shows sick people brought by horse-drawn ambulance to a pool of water, only to emerge happy and healthy.

“He was imagining this ‘elixir of youth’ (that) we could offer patients who are very ill and, in fact, that is what we as endocrinologists do,” Melmed said. “We offer our patients these elixirs. These Cushing’s patients are extremely ill. We are trying with all of our molecular work and our understanding of pathogenesis and signaling to create this pool of water for them, where they can emerge with at least an improved quality of life and, hopefully, a normalized mortality. That is our challenge.” – by Regina Schaffer

Reference:

Melmed S. From zebrafish to humans: translating discoveries for the treatment of Cushing’s disease. Presented at: AACE Annual Scientific and Clinical Congress; April 24-28, 2019; Los Angeles.

Disclosure: Melmed reports no relevant financial disclosures.

 

From https://www.healio.com/endocrinology/neuroendocrinology/news/online/%7B585002ad-640f-49e5-8d62-d1853154d7e2%7D/new-discoveries-offer-possible-cushings-disease-cure

Cushing’s Disease Stresses Your Heart and Your Mental Health

Written by Kathleen Doheny

With Oskar Ragnarsson, MD, PHD, and Tamara Wexler, MD, PhD

Adults with Cushing’s syndrome, also called hypercortisolism, have a three-fold higher risk of dying from heart disease compared to the general population,1 according to findings reported by a Swiss research team. Although the researchers found that the risk drops when patients are under care, receiving treatment, and are in remission, the risks don’t disappear completely.  For some perspective, heart disease is common in the United States, affectingone in four adults, regardless of health status.2

Patients with Cushing’s disease have excess mortality [risk],” says Oskar Ragnarsson, MD, PhD, associate professor and a senior consultant in internal medicine and endocrinology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden. He is the author of the study, which appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Having Cushing’s Requires Vigilance Beyond Disease Symptoms

Still, the news is not all bleak, he says. Simple awareness of the increased risks can help individuals reduce their risk, just as following your doctor’s treatment plan so remain in remission, Dr. Ragnarsson tells EndocrineWeb. In addition, patients who received growth hormone replacement appear to have better overall outcomes.1

Cushing’s syndrome occurs when your body is exposed to high levels of the hormone cortisol over a long period of time. This can be caused either by taking corticosteroid medicine orally, or if your body just makes too much cortisol. Common symptoms of this condition include: having a fatty hump between the shoulders, a rounded face, and stretch marks with pink or purple coloring on the skin. Complications, if Cushing’s disease goes untreated, may include bone loss (leading to increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis), high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other problems. Usual treatment includes medication and surgery that are aimed to normalize cortisol levels.3

Increased Risks Are Cause for Concern in Cushing’s Disease

The researchers analyzed data from 502 men and women, all of whom were diagnosed with Cushing’s disease between 1987 and 2013 as indicated in a Swedish health database.1 The average age of these patients at diagnosis was 43 years, and, 83% of these individuals were in remission. During a median follow up of 13 years—half followed for longer, half followed for less time—the researchers noted 133 deaths, more than the 54 that had been anticipated in this patient population.

From this data,1 Dr. Ragnarsson and his team calculated that people with Cushing’s disease were about 2.5 times more likely to die than the general population. The most common reason, with more than a 3-fold increased risk, was attributed to events associated with cardiovascular disease, encompassing both heart disease and stroke. This group also appeared to have a higher risk of death from infectious and respiratory diseases, and conditions related to gastrointestinal problems.

Fortunately, just being in disease remission helps to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality,1 the researchers’ report, with both men and women whose Cushing’s disease is well-managed having a two-fold lower risk of death during the follow-up period.1 Those in remission who were receiving growth hormone had an even lower risk of death than those on other forms of treatment.

In addition, the researchers looked at the 55 patients with Cushing’s disease who were in remission and also had diabetes, finding that their risks remained the same. In other words, despite a strong relationship between diabetes and increased heart disease, the risks of death were not increased in this group of patients.1

In considering the impact that treatments may have, the researchers found:

  • 3 in 4 of these patients (75%) had undergone pituitary surgery
  • 28% had undergone radiotherapy
  • 1 in 4 (24%) had had both adrenal glands removed

Those who had their adrenal glands removal experienced a 2.7-fold higher risk of death, while those who were treated with radiotherapy or had pituitary surgery did not have an increased risk associated with cardiovascular events. When glucocorticoid therapy was added, it did not affect results, according to Dr. Ragnarsson and his research team.

Bottom line? “Even though patients in remission have a better prognosis than patients not in remission, they still have more than a 2-fold increased mortality [risk],” he says. The study, he says, is the first to uncover a high rate of death from suicide in Cushing’s patients. It has been reported before, but the numbers found in this study were higher than in others.

The findings, he says, emphasize the importance of treating Cushing’s with a goal of remission. Ongoing surveillance and management are crucial, he says. “Also, evaluation and active treatment of cardiovascular risk factors and mental health is of utmost importance,” Dr. Ragnarsson tells EndocrineWeb.

Remission Reduces But Doesn’t Eliminate Serious Risks 

The study findings underscore the message that ”the priority for patients is to achieve biochemical remission,” says Tamara L. Wexler, MD, PhD, director of the NYU Langone Medical Center Pituitary Center, in reviewing the findings for EndocrineWeb.

“One question raised by the study findings is whether patients listed as being in remission were truly in (consistent) remission,” Dr. Wexler says. “One or more of several testing methods may have been used, and the data were based on medical record reviews so we can’t be certain about the status of these patients’ remission. In addition, we don’t know how much excess cortisol patients were exposed over time, which may change their risks.”

I have another concern about the findings, she says. While the method of analysis used in the study suggests that the length of time from diagnosis to remission is not associated with increased death risk, ”it may be that the total exposure to excess cortisol—the amplitude as well as duration—is related to morbidity [illness] and mortality [death] risk.” And, she adds, any negative effects experienced by patients with Cushing’s disease may be reduced further as remission status continues.

In addition, Dr. Wexler considers the authors’ comments that sustained high cortisol levels may impact the cardiovascular system in a way that is chronic and irreversible ”may be overly strong.” She believes that the total cortisol exposure and the duration of remission may both play important roles in patients’ ongoing health.

She does agree, however, with the researchers’ recommendation of the need to treat heart disease risk factors more aggressively in patients with a history of Cushing’s disease. Equally important, is for patients to be warned that there is an increased concern about suicide, she says, urging anyone with Cushing’s disease to raise all of these concerns with your health practitioner.

Overall, the study findings certainly suggest that it is important for you to know that if you have Cushing’s syndrome, you are at increased risk for not just heart disease but also mental health disorders and other ailments than the general population, she says, and that the best course of action is to work closely with your doctor to achieve remission and stick to your overall treatment plan.

Steps to Take to Reduce Your Risks for Heart Disease and Depression

Dr. Ragnarsson suggests those with Cushing’s disease make adjustments as needed to achieve the following risk-reducing strategies:

  • Be sure your food choices meet the parameters of a heart-healthy diet
  • You are getting some kind of physical activity most every day
  • You see your doctor at least once a year to have annual checks of your blood pressure, blood sugar, and other heart disease risk factors.

For those of you receiving cortisone replacement therapy, you should be mindful of the need to have a boost in your medication dose with your doctors’ supervision when you’re are sick or experiencing increased health stresses.

From https://www.endocrineweb.com/news/adrenal-disorders/61675-cushings-disease-stresses-your-heart-your-mental-health

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