BIPSS Diagnostic Method May Cause False Positive in Some Cases of Cyclic Cushing’s Syndrome

A diagnostic technique called bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling (BIPSS), which measures the levels of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) produced by the pituitary gland, should only be used to diagnose cyclic Cushing’s syndrome patients during periods of cortisol excess, a case report shows.

When it is used during a spontaneous remission period of cycling Cushing’s syndrome, this kind of sampling can lead to false results, the researchers found.

The study, “A pitfall of bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling in cyclic Cushing’s syndrome,” was published in BMC Endocrine Disorders.

Cushing’s syndrome is caused by abnormally high levels of the hormone cortisol. This is most often the result of a tumor on the pituitary gland that produces too much ACTH, which tells the adrenal glands to increase cortisol secretion.

However, the disease may also occur due to adrenal tumors or tumors elsewhere in the body that also produce excess ACTH — referred to as ectopic Cushing’s syndrome.

Because treatment strategies differ, doctors need to determine the root cause of the condition before deciding which treatment to choose.

BIPSS can be useful in this regard. It is considered a gold standard diagnostic tool to determine whether ACTH is being produced and released by the pituitary gland or by an ectopic tumor.

However, in people with cycling Cushing’s syndrome, this technique might not be foolproof.

Researchers reported the case of a 43-year-old woman who had rapidly cycling Cushing’s syndrome, meaning she had periods of excess cortisol with Cushing’s syndrome symptoms — low potassium, high blood pressure, and weight gain — followed by normal cortisol levels where symptoms resolved spontaneously.

In general, the length of each period can vary anywhere from a few hours to several months; in the case of this woman, they alternated relatively rapidly — over the course of weeks.

After conducting a series of blood tests and physical exams, researchers suspected of Cushing’s syndrome caused by an ACTH-producing tumor.

The patient eventually was diagnosed with ectopic Cushing’s disease, but a BIPSS sampling performed during a spontaneous remission period led to an initial false diagnosis of pituitary Cushing’s. As a result, the woman underwent an unnecessary exploratory pituitary surgery that revealed no tumor on the pituitary.

Additional imaging studies then identified a few metastatic lesions, some of which were removed surgically, as the likely source of ACTH. However, the primary tumor still hasn’t been definitively identified. At the time of publication, the patient was still being treated for Cushing’s-related symptoms and receiving chemotherapy.

There is still a question of why the initial BIPSS result was a false positive. The researchers think that the likely explanation is that BIPSS was performed during an “off phase,” when cortisol levels were comparatively low. In fact, a later BIPSS performed during a period of high cortisol levels showed no evidence of ACTH excess in the pituitary.

This case “demonstrates the importance of performing diagnostic tests only during the phases of active cortisol secretion, as soon as first symptoms appear,” the researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2020/01/02/cushings-syndrome-case-study-shows-drawback-in-bipss-method/

ACTH Levels After Surgery Help Predict Remission, Recurrence in Cushing’s

Levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in circulation after pituitary surgery may help predict which Cushing’s disease patients will achieve early remission and which will eventually see the disease return, a study shows.

Also, the earlier that patients reached their lowest peak of ACTH levels, the better their long-term outcomes.

The study, “Prognostic usefulness of ACTH in the postoperative period of Cushing’s disease,” was published in the journal Endocrine Connections.

Removing the pituitary tumor through a minimally invasive surgery called transsphenoidal surgery is still the treatment of choice for Cushing’s disease patients. But not all patients enter remission, and even among those who do, a small proportion will experience disease recurrence.

While cortisol levels have been suggested as a main predictor of remission and recurrence, there is no consensus as to which cutoff point should be used after surgery, or the best time for measuring this hormone.

Because Cushing’s disease is caused by an ACTH-producing tumor in the pituitary gland, and ACTH has a short half-life (approximately 10 minutes), it is expected that ACTH levels drop markedly within a few hours after surgery.

Thus, a group of researchers in Spain aimed to determine whether blood levels of ACTH could be useful for predicting remission of Cushing’s disease both immediately after surgery (defined as less than 72 hours) and in the long term.

Researchers analyzed 65 patients with Cushing’s disease who had undergone transsphenoidal surgery (seven required a second intervention) between 2005 and 2016. Remission within three months was seen in 56 of 65 cases; late disease recurrence was seen in 18 of 58 cases.

Investigators measured the ACTH nadir concentration (defined as the lowest concentration) and the time taken to reach nadir levels after surgery, as well as the plasma ACTH concentration before hospital discharge.

While ACTH levels had no predictive value, the team found that people who went into remission had significantly lower ACTH nadir levels and ACTH levels at discharge. On the other hand, levels of ACHT nadir and at discharge were significantly higher for people who experienced a relapse, compared to those who remained in remission.

Using artificial intelligence algorithms, the researchers further found that ACTH nadir, ACTH at discharge, and cortisol nadir values were all of great relevance to predict remission within three months.

Analysis indicated that using a cutoff point of 3.3 pmol/L of ACTH after surgery and before discharge gave the best sensitivity and specificity for predicting a patient’s prognosis.

Researchers further found that the time patients took to reach their ACTH nadir, regardless of nadir levels, also influenced their outcomes. In fact, patients reaching this nadir in less than than 46 hours more likely achieved early remission.

And taking longer than 39 hours to reach the ACTH nadir was significantly more frequent in patients who experienced recurrence. This indicates that the time to ACTH nadir is an important measure for prognosis.

“In the immediate postoperative period of patients with [Cushing’s disease], the ACTH concentration is of prognostic utility in relation to late disease remission,” the researchers said.

Overall, “we propose an ACTH value <3.3 pmol/L as a good long-term prognostic marker in the postoperative period of CD. Reaching the ACTH nadir in less time is associated to a lesser recurrence rate,” the study concluded.

Patricia holds her Ph.D. in Cell Biology from University Nova de Lisboa, and has served as an author on several research projects and fellowships, as well as major grant applications for European Agencies. She also served as a PhD student research assistant in the Laboratory of Doctor David A. Fidock, Department of Microbiology & Immunology, Columbia University, New York.

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

Temozolomide Effective Against Cushing’s Caused by Aggressive Tumors

The oral chemotherapy temozolomide might be an effective treatment for Cushing’s disease caused by aggressive tumors in the pituitary gland that continue to grow after surgery and taking other medications, a case report suggests.

The study, “Successful reduction of ACTH secretion in a case of intractable Cushing’s disease with pituitary Crooke’s cell adenoma by combined modality therapy including temozolomide,” was published in the journal J-Stage.

Cushing’s disease is often caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland that secretes high levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), leading to high levels of cortisol and other symptoms.

Macroadenomas are aggressive, fast-growing tumors that reach sizes larger than 10 millimeters. Crooke’s cell adenoma is a type of macroadenoma that does not respond to conventional therapies, but has deficient mechanisms of DNA repair. That is why chemotherapeutic agents that damage the DNA, such as temozolomide, might be potential treatments.

Researchers in Japan reported the case of a 56-year-old woman with Cushing’s disease caused by a Crooke’s cell adenoma in the pituitary gland who responded positively to temozolomide.

The patient was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease at age 39 when she went to the hospital complaining of continuous weight gain. She also had excessive production of urine and a loss of vision in the right eye.

The lab tests showed high levels of cortisol and ACTH, and the MRI detected a tumor of 4.5 centimeters in the pituitary gland. The doctors removed a part of the tumor surgically, which initially reduced the levels of ACTH and cortisol.

However, the hormone levels and the size of the residual tumor started to increase gradually after the surgery, despite treatment with several medications.

By the time the patient was 56 years old, she went to the hospital complaining of general fatigue, leg edema (swelling from fluid), high blood pressure, and central obesity (belly fat).

Further examination showed a 5.7 cm tumor, identified as a Crooke’s cell macroadenoma. The patient underwent a second surgery to remove as much tumor as possible, but the levels of ACTH remained high. She took temozolomide for nine months, which normalized the levels of ACTH and cortisol. After the treatment, the patient no longer had high blood pressure or leg edema.

The tumor shrunk considerably in the year following temozolomide treatment. The patient started radiation therapy to control tumor growth. The levels of cortisol and ACHT remained normal, and the tumor did not grow in the seven years following temozolomide treatment.

“These clinical findings suggest that [temozolomide] treatment to patients with Crooke’s cell adenoma accompanied with elevated ACTH may be a good indication to induce lowering ACTH levels and tumor shrinkage,” researchers wrote.

Other cases of Cushing’s disease caused by aggressive macroadenomas showed positive results, such as reduction of tumor size and decrease in plasma ACTH, after temozolomide treatment. However, more studies are needed to establish the ideal course of chemotherapy to treat these tumors, the researchers noted.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/06/18/temozolomide-effective-cushings-disease-aggressive-tumors-case-report/

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