Even in Remission, Cushing’s Patients Have Excess Mortality

Cushing’s disease patients in Sweden have a higher risk of death than the general Swedish population, particularly of cardiovascular complications, and that increased risk persists even in patients in remission, a large nationwide study shows.

The study, “Overall and disease-specific mortality in patients with Cushing’s disease: a Swedish nationwide study,” was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The outcomes of Cushing’s disease patients have improved with the introduction of several therapeutic approaches, such as minimally invasive surgery and cortisol-lowering therapies. However, mortality is still high, especially among those who do not achieve remission.

While currently patients in remission are thought to have a better prognosis, it is still unclear whether these patients still have a higher mortality than the general population. Understanding whether these patients are more likely to die and what risk factors are associated with increased mortality is critical to reduce death rates among Cushing’s patients.

A team of Swedish researchers thus performed a retrospective study that included patients diagnosed with Cushing’s disease who were part of the Swedish National Patient Registry between 1987 and 2013.

A total of 502 patients with Cushing’s disease were included in the study, 419 of whom were confirmed to be in remission. Most patients (77%) were women; the mean age at diagnosis was 43 years, and the median follow-up time was 13 years.

During the follow-up, 133 Cushing’s patients died, compared to 54 expected deaths in the general population — a mortality rate 2.5 times higher, researchers said.

The most common causes of death among Cushing’s patients were cardiovascular diseases, particularly ischemic heart disease and cerebral infarctions. However, infectious and respiratory diseases (including pneumonia), as well as diseases of the digestive system, also contributed to the increased mortality among Cushing’s patients.

Of those in remission, 21% died, compared to 55% among those not in remission. While these patients had a lower risk of death, their mortality rate was still 90% higher than that of the general population. For patients who did not achieve remission, the mortality rate was 6.9 times higher.

The mortality associated with cardiovascular diseases was increased for both patients in remission and not in remission. Also, older age at the start of the study and time in remission were associated with mortality risk.

“A more aggressive treatment of hypertension, dyslipidemia [abnormal amount of fat in the blood], and other cardiovascular risk factors might be warranted in patients with CS in remission,” researchers said.

Of the 419 patients in remission, 315 had undergone pituitary surgery, 102 had had their adrenal glands removed, and 116 had received radiation therapy.

Surgical removal of the adrenal glands and chronic glucocorticoid replacement therapy were associated with a worse prognosis. In fact, glucocorticoid replacement therapy more than twice increased the mortality risk. Growth hormone replacement was linked with better outcomes.

In remission patients, a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus or high blood pressure had no impact on mortality risk.

Overall, “this large nationwide study shows that patients with [Cushing’s disease] continue to have excess mortality even after remission,” researchers stated. The highest mortality rates, however, were seen in “patients with persistent disease, those who were treated with bilateral adrenalectomy and those who required glucocorticoid replacement.”

“Further studies need to focus on identifying best approaches to obtaining remission, active surveillance, adequate hormone replacement and long-term management of cardiovascular and mental health in these patients,” the study concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/02/28/even-in-remission-cushings-patients-have-excess-mortality-swedish-study-says/

Bilateral Adrenalectomy Negatively Affects Quality of Life in Cushing’s Patients

Bilateral adrenalectomy, in which the adrenal glands are removed, has a bigger negative impact on the quality of life of patients with Cushing’s disease than other treatment options, a recent study suggests.

This may be due to the longer exposure to high levels of cortisol in these patients, which is known to greatly affect their quality of life, the authors hypothesize.

The study, “Bilateral adrenalectomy in Cushing’s disease: Altered long-term quality of life compared to other treatment options,” was published in the journal Annales d’Endocrinologie.

Cushing’s disease is caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland in the brain that secretes large amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone, which, in turn, stimulates the adrenal glands to produce high levels of cortisol (a glucocorticoid hormone).

The gold standard for treating Cushing’s disease is the surgical removal of the pituitary gland tumor. However, 31% of these patients still require a second-line treatment — such as another surgery, radiotherapy, medical treatment, and/or bilateral adrenalectomy — due to persistent or recurrent disease.

Bilateral adrenalectomy is increasingly used to treat patients with Cushing’s disease, with high rates of success and low mortality rates. However, since the absence of adrenal glands leads to a sharp drop in cortisol, this treatment implies lifelong glucocorticoid replacement therapy and increases the risk of developing Nelson syndrome.

Nelson syndrome is characterized by the enlargement of the pituitary gland and the development of pituitary gland tumors, and is estimated to occur in 15-25% of Cushing’s patients who have a bilateral adrenalectomy.

Despite being cured with any of these treatment options, patients still seem to have a lower quality of life than healthy people. In addition, there is limited data on the impact of several of the treatment options on quality of life.

Researchers in France evaluated the long-term quality of life of Cushing’s disease patients who underwent bilateral adrenalectomy and compared it with other therapeutic options.

Quality of life was assessed through three questionnaires: one of general nature, the Short Form-36 Health Survey (SF-36); one on disease-specific symptoms, the Cushing QoL questionnaire; and the last focused on mental aspects, the Beck depression inventory (BDI).

Researchers analyzed the medical data, as well as the results of the questionnaires, of 34 patients with Cushing’s disease — 24 women and 10 men — at two French centers. The patients’ mean age was 49.3, and 17 had undergone bilateral adrenalectomy, while the remaining 17 had surgery, radiotherapy, or medical treatment.

Results showed that patients who underwent a bilateral adrenalectomy were exposed to high levels of cortisol significantly longer (6.1 years) than those on other treatment options (1.3 years). This corresponds with the fact that this surgery is conducted only in patients with severe disease that was not controlled with first-line and/or second-line treatment.

These patients also showed a lower quality of life — particularly in regards to the general health, bodily pain, vitality, and social functioning aspects of the SF-36 questionnaire, and the Cushing QoL questionnaire and BDI — compared with those who underwent other therapeutic options.

This and other studies support the hypothesis that these patients’ lower quality of life may be caused by longer exposure to high cortisol levels, and “its physical and psychological consequences, as well as the repeated treatment failures,” according to the researchers. Additionally, the presence of Nelson syndrome in these patients was associated with a significantly lower quality of life related to mental aspects.

The team also found that adrenal gland insufficiency was a major predictor of a lower quality of life in these patients, regardless of the therapeutic option, suggesting it may have a stronger negative impact than the type of treatment.

They noted, however, that additional and larger prospective studies are necessary to confirm these results.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/09/28/bilateral-adrenalectomy-lowers-cushing-patients-quality-life-study/

Etomidate Found Effective in Severe Cushing’s Syndrome

Etomidate — a steroid synthesis blocker — is an effective treatment for patients with severe Cushing’s syndrome who do not respond to ketoconazole, according to a new case report from Mexico.

The report, “Etomidate in the control of severe Cushing’s syndrome by neuroendocrine carcinoma,” appeared in the journal Clinical Case Reports.

The investigators reported the case of a 51-year-old woman with ectopic Cushing’s syndrome caused by a pancreatic tumor. Ectopic Cushing’s refers to cases of excess secretion of adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) outside the pituitary or adrenal glands.

The patient underwent distal pancreatectomy — the surgical removal of the bottom half of the pancreas — in 2015 due to an ACTH-secreting tumor. Although she had a good initial response, liver metastasis was evident by 2016.

Compared to measurements in 2016, morning blood cortisol, 24-hour urinary-free cortisol, and ACTH levels significantly increased in 2017. The patient also showed low levels of the luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones, which the scientists attributed to her severe hypercortisolism (excess cortisol levels).

The woman was being treated with ketoconazole to lower her cortisol values and later received chemoembolization — a method to reduce blood supply and deliver chemotherapy directly to a tumor — for her liver metastasis.

Although ketoconazole is generally the treatment of choice for the control of hormone production in the adrenal glands, its effectiveness is often limited and is associated with side effects, clinicians noted.

In April 2017, the patient arrived at the emergency room with sepsis — a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection — that originated in the gut.

Because ketoconazole had failed to lower cortisol levels, the patient started receiving infused etomidate, an inhibitor of the enzyme 11‐beta‐hydroxylase that prevents cortisol synthesis.

This treatment was stopped one day before the bilateral removal of the adrenal glands as a definitive treatment for the elevated production of cortisol.

While the patient experienced decreased levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium with an initial dose of 0.04 mg per kg body weight an hour of etomidate, a gradual decrease of etomidate — depending on her cortisol levels — corrected these alterations.

After surgery, the patient showed a significant improvement in her general health, including control of her sepsis. She is currently taking hydrocortisone and fludrocortisone, with treatment for liver metastasis pending.

“Etomidate is a very effective drug in severe Cushing’s syndrome that is refractory to ketoconazole,” the researchers wrote.

“Control of the serum cortisol levels in ectopic Cushing’s syndrome can be obtained with infusion rates much lower than those used in anesthesia, without respiratory side effects,” they added.

The authors recommend an initial dose of etomidate of 0.04 mg/kg per hour, daily monitoring of 24-hour urinary cortisol and cortisol levels, and a gradual decrease of the etomidate dose according to daily measurements of metabolites.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/05/17/severe-cushings-syndrome-case-study-finds-etomidate-effective-therapy/

ACTH-producing Lung Tumors Hard to Detect, But May Be Cured with Surgery

Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome can be challenging to diagnose, especially when it comes identifying the problem source. But appropriate hormone management protocols, used in combination with advanced imaging methods, may help physicians identify ectopic ACTH-producing tumors.

The findings in a case report of a young man with ectopic Cushing’s syndrome were published in the International Journal of Surgery Case Reports, under the title “Case report: Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome in a young male with hidden lung carcinoid tumor.”

Cushing’s syndrome is caused by high amounts of glucocoticosteroids in the blood. The most common cause is a malfunction of the glands that produce these hormones. In some cases, however, the disease may be caused by tumors elsewhere in the body that have the ability to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).

In half of all Cushing’s patients, ectopic ACTH is produced by small lung cell carcinomas or lung carcinoids (a type of slow-growing lung cancer). But some tumors in the thymus and pancreas also have been found to produce ACTH.

Researchers at Damascus University Hospital in Syria presented the case of a 26-year-old man who had ectopic Cushing’s syndrome due to lung carcinoids.

The patient presented with increased appetite and rapid weight gain for more than a year. These were associated with headache, fatigue, proximal muscle weakness, and easy bruising. He had no family history of hormonal disorder.

Based on the initial physical and symptom evaluation, the clinical team suspected Cushing’s syndrome. Blood analysis revealed high levels of cortisol and ACTH hormones, which supported the diagnosis.

Administration of dexamethasone, a treatment used to inhibit the production of glucocoticosteroids by the pituitary gland, reduced cortisol levels within normal range, but not ACTH levels. This led to the diagnosis of ectopic Cushing’s syndrome.

The next step was to identify the tumor causing the syndrome. The team conducted imaging studies of the brain, chest, and abdomen, but found no tumor.

Because ectopic ACTH is commonly produced by lung cancers, the team then analyzed the patient’s lungs. Again, they failed to detect a tumor.

The patient was discharged with prescription of 200 mg of Nizoral (ketoconazole) once-daily, calcium, and vitamin D. After three months of treatment, he remained stable, with no evidence of symptom improvement.

At this point, the team decided to surgically remove both adrenal glands in an attempt to reduce the hormone levels. Treatment with prednisolone 5 mg and fludrocortisone 0.1 mg once daily was initiated, along with calcium and vitamin D.

Eighteen months later, the patient’s condition worsened and he required hospitalization.

Imaging tests targeting the neck, chest, and abdomen were conducted again. This time, physicians detected a 2 cm mass in the middle lobe of the right lung, which was removed surgically. Detailed analysis of the small tumor confirmed that it was the source of the excessive ACTH.

“ACTH secreting tumors can be very hard to detect,” the researchers stated. “Initial failed localization is common in ectopic ACTH syndrome and it is usually due to carcinoid.”

Cases where the ectopic ACTH production is caused by a carcinoid tumor can be challenging to diagnose because tumors are small and relatively slow-growing. Imaging data is often hard to analyze and the tumors can be confused with pulmonary vessels, the researchers explained.

“In such cases we should first aim to lower blood cortisol medically or through bilateral adrenalectomy to avoid Cushing’s complications,” which should then “be followed up through imaging studies (CT, MRI, scintigraphy or PET) to detect the tumor and resect it, which is the definitive treatment of these patients,” the researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/12/12/case-report-ectopic-acth-producing-lung-tumors-can-hard-detect/

Postsurgical treatment often necessary in persistent, recurrent Cushing’s disease

Nearly half of adults with Cushing’s disease that persists or recurs after surgical treatment require second and sometimes third therapeutic interventions, including pituitary surgical reintervention, radiotherapy, pharmacotherapy or bilateral adrenalectomy, study data from Mexico show.

Moisés Mercado, MD, FRCPC, of the ABC Hospital Neurological and Cancer Centers in Mexico City, and colleagues evaluated 84 adults (median age, 34 years; 77 women) with Cushing’s disease to determine the long-term efficacy of secondary interventions for persistent and recurrent Cushing’s disease. Median follow-up was 6.3 years.

Overall, 81 participants were primarily treated with transsphenoidal surgery. More than half experienced long-lasting remission (61.7%); disease remained active in 16%, who were diagnosed with persistent Cushing’s disease; and 22% experienced relapse after remission and were diagnosed with recurrent Cushing’s disease.

After the initial procedure, 18 participants required pituitary surgical reintervention, including 10 with recurrent and eight with persistent disease. Radiation therapy was administered to 14 participants, including two as primary therapy and 12 after failed pituitary surgery. Pharmacologic treatment with ketoconazole was prescribed for 15 participants at one point during the course of disease. Bilateral adrenalectomy was performed in 12 participants.

Pituitary surgical reintervention was the most commonly used secondary treatment (22.2%), followed by pharmacologic therapy with ketoconazole (16%), radiotherapy (14.8%) and bilateral adrenalectomy (14.8%). More than half of participants experienced early remissions after a second operation (66.6%) and radiotherapy (58.3%), whereas long-lasting remission was reached in only 33.3% of participants who underwent a second surgery and 41.6% of participants who underwent radiotherapy. Half of participants who underwent bilateral adrenalectomy were diagnosed with Nelson’s syndrome.

Overall, 88% of participants achieved remission, and disease was biochemically controlled with pharmacologic treatment in 9.5% of participants after their initial, secondary and third-line treatments.

“The efficacy of treatment alternatives for recurrent or persistent [Cushing’s disease] vary among patients, and often, more than one of these interventions is required in order to achieve a long-lasting remission,” the researchers wrote. – by Amber Cox

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

From http://www.healio.com/endocrinology/adrenal/news/in-the-journals/%7B5519b312-5912-4c65-b2ed-2ece3f68e83f%7D/postsurgical-treatment-often-necessary-in-persistent-recurrent-cushings-disease

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