Recurrent Neuroendocrine Tumor of the Cervix Presenting With Ectopic Cushing’s Syndrome


Neuroendocrine carcinomas (NEC) of the cervix are a rare disease entity and account for only 1-2% of cervical carcinomas. The small-cell variant is the most common, with a worse prognosis and a higher rate of lymphatic and hematogenous metastases when compared with other subtypes of NEC. The diagnosis is usually made when the extra-pelvic disease is already apparent. Cushing’s syndrome due to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting tumors of the cervix is exceedingly rare. To date, there have been no reported cases in the literature of Cushing’s syndrome induced by the recurrence of metastases years after the initial diagnosis. This is a case of recurrent small-cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the cervix presenting with Cushing’s syndrome five years after her original diagnosis. We present here the workup, management, and follow-up of this patient, including multisystemic, coordinated medical care.


Neuroendocrine carcinomas (NECs) are heterogenous groups of tumors derived from neuroendocrine cells. NECs of the cervix are rare and account for 1-2% of all cervical carcinomas, with the small-cell variant being the most common [1,2]. Small-cell NECs have a high rate of lymphatic and hematogenous metastasis even when the carcinoma is limited to the cervix. Patients usually present at a late stage, with the extra-pelvic disease being apparent at the time of diagnosis [2]. Among the different histologic variants of NEC of the cervix, the small-cell variant has the highest rate of recurrence [3]. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting tumors of the cervix are rare [4]. We present a case of recurrent metastatic NEC of the cervix five years after the original diagnosis of NEC of the cervix, now presenting with Cushing’s syndrome [1,2].

Case Presentation

A 39-year-old female with a history of recurrent small-cell cervical cancer presented to the emergency department (ED) of our hospital with complaints of weight gain, generalized facial edema, lightheadedness, tingling sensation of her entire face, bilateral leg edema, and abdominal distention.

Her problems started a month prior to her ED visit, when she started to complain of abdominal distention. She had a computed tomography (CT) abdomen with contrast, which revealed evidence of metastatic disease, including multiple large liver lesions (Figure 1). Subsequently, she had a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, which confirmed the presence of hypermetabolic lesions in the right peritonsillar tissue, liver, right lower quadrant of the abdomen, and bilateral pulmonary nodules with lymphadenopathy in the left hilum (Figure 2). A liver biopsy was done, with the final pathology consistent with recurrent NEC of the cervix. She was started on cisplatin, etoposide, and atezolizumab by gynecologic oncology but started to develop facial swelling and progressive abdominal distention, prompting this ED consult and subsequent admission.

Figure 1: Abdomial CT with contrast done one month prior showed evidence of metastatic disease including multiple large liver lesions.
Figure 2: PET/CT demonstrated the presence of hypermetabolic lesions in the liver and right lower quadrant of the abdomen.

She had a significant medical history of being diagnosed with cervical cancer (FIGO stage 1B2 NEC) five years prior by gynecologic oncology, at which time she underwent concurrent chemo-radiation followed by surgical assessment of her pelvic lymph nodes with robotic pelvic lymph node dissection and bilateral ovarian transposition to avoid premature menopause. She was subsequently treated with cisplatin and pelvic radiation. She had a follow-up cervical biopsy several months after chemotherapy, which showed persistent NEC, but her PET scan showed no evidence of metastatic disease. After undergoing a robotic total laparoscopic hysterectomy, the final pathology showed a persistent microscopic focus of NEC of the cervix with negative margins. She received adjuvant chemotherapy with cisplatin and etoposide for six cycles with regular follow-up pap smears and annual PET scans, with no evidence of recurrence for five years.

On admission, her vital signs were: blood pressure = 129/79 mm Hg, pulse rate = 85/min, respiratory rate = 18/min, and temperature = 98.5 °F (36.9 °C). Her physical examination was notable for moon facies (a noticeable change from her pictures as recent as two months prior), supraclavicular and dorsocervical fat pads, multiple bruises on her arms, edema of her face and legs, acne of her face and neck, and hair growth of her chin area. No purple striae were seen on the abdomen.

Laboratory tests revealed leukopenia and thrombocytopenia (which were attributed to her chemotherapy), recently diagnosed diabetes (occasional hyperglycemia and HbA1c 7.7%), and electrolyte imbalances (hypokalemia and hypophosphatemia) (Table 1).

Sodium 142 mEq/L (135–145 mEq/L)
Potassium 2.0 mEq/L (3.5–5.0 mEq/L)
Chloride 98 mEq/L (98–108 mEq/L)
CO2 35 mEq/L (21–32 mEq/L)
Anion gap 9 mEq/L (8–16 mEq/L)
BUN 14 mg/dL (7–13 mEq/L)
Creatinine 1.13 mg/dL (0.6–1.1 mg/dL)
Glucose 460 mg/dL (74–100 mg/dL)
Calcium 7.8 mg/dL (8.5–10.1 mg/dL)
Phosphorous 1.0 mg/dL (2.5–4.5 mg/dL)
Albumin 2.5 mg/dL (3.1–4.5 mg/dL)
AST 43 U/L (15–27 U/L)
ALT 76 U/L (12–78 U/L)
White blood cell count 0.6 k/cmm (4.5–10.0 k/cmm)
Red blood cell count 3.55 million cells/μL (3.7–5 × 2)
Hemoglobin 11.9 g/dL (12.0–16.0)
Hematocrit 34.3% (35.0–47.0)
Platelet 45 k/cmm (150–440 k/cmm)
Table 1: Initial laboratory work showed leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, hyperglycemia, hypokalemia, and hypophosphatemia.

AST: aspartate aminotransferase, CO2: carbon dioxide, BUN: blood urea nitrogen, ALT: alanine aminotransferase.

Her chest X-ray showed bilateral pleural effusions. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain showed no evidence of pituitary masses, abnormalities, or metastatic disease in the brain. A CT of the chest showed new bilateral non-calcified lung nodules when compared to the previous PET scan, pathologic-sized left hilar adenopathy, and multiple peripherally enhancing hepatic nodules and masses (Figure 3). The adrenal glands were unremarkable. Workup for facial swelling and bilateral leg edema showed no evidence of superior vena cava (SVC) syndrome on both her chest CT and transthoracic echocardiogram.

Figure 3: Contrast-enhanced chest CT showing bilateral noncalcified lung nodules.

She was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) and started on empiric antibiotics and filgrastim for neutropenia. Replacement therapy for both hypokalemia and hypophosphatemia was given. After both electrolytes were normalized, the patient was started on basal-bolus insulin therapy.

Based on her clinic presentation of excessive weight gain, new-onset hyperglycemia, hypertension with hypokalemia, and a history of NEC, suspicion of Cushing’s syndrome was high. Further workup showed elevated serum cortisol after 1 mg overnight dexamethasone suppression, elevated 24-hour urine cortisol, and elevated midnight salivary cortisol, which confirmed Cushing’s syndrome (Table 2). ACTH was also elevated, but dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) was normal. Thyroid function tests showed a slightly low free thyroxine, but this was attributed to an acute illness.

HgbA1C 7.7% (4.0-6.0%)
ACTH 1207 pg/mL (7.2–63.3 pg/mL)
24-hour urine cortisol 7070 μg/24 hr (6–42 μg/24 hr)
Salivary cortisol >1.000 μg /dL (0.025–0.600 μg/dL)
Serum cortisol after 1 mg overnight dexamethasone suppression 143.0 μg/dL (3.1–16.7 μg/dL)
Total testosterone 77 ng/dL (14–76 ng/dL)
DHEAS 250.0 μg/dL (57.3–279.2 μg/dL)
Chromogranin A 970.9 ng/mL (0.0–101.8 ng/mL)
TSH 0.572 mIU/L (0.358–3.74mIU/L)
Free T4 0.70 ng/dl (0.76–1.46) ng/dl
Table 2: Work up showed elevated ACTH, elevated 24-hour urine cortisol, elevated salivary cortisol, and elevated serum cortisol after 1 mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test.

HgbA1C: hemoglobin A1C; ACTH: adrenocorticotropic hormone; DHEAS: dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate; TSH: thyroid stimulating hormone; free T4: free thyroxine.

A diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome due to metastatic small-cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the cervix was assumed. A bilateral adrenalectomy, which is the definitive treatment of hypercortisolism when surgical removal of the source of excess ACTH is done, was not done because gynecologic oncology wanted to treat her with chemotherapy urgently due to her metastases and the nature of the disease and felt that surgery and recovery would delay the start of chemotherapy. Ketoconazole was felt to be a poor choice in the setting of liver metastases with worsening liver function tests. The patient was thus started on mifepristone 300 mg daily, as it is indicated for hypercortisolism secondary to endogenous Cushing’s syndrome with diabetes. Nephrology was consulted, and potassium supplementation was transitioned to oral potassium chloride 40 meq tablets four times a day; spironolactone 50 mg twice daily was added for the hypokalemia and hypertension, which occurred after the patient started bevacizumab. Hypokalemia is a common side effect of mifepristone therapy due to the glucocorticoid receptor blockade, which leads to cortisol’s spillover effect on unopposed mineralocorticoid receptors. She was discharged home with a basal-bolus insulin regimen.

Her posthospitalization course was complicated by compression fractures of her lumbar spine one week after discharge with no history of falls. An MRI of the spine showed chronic compression fractures of the T11-L3 vertebral bodies with no evidence of osseous metastatic disease. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scan interpretation demonstrated osteoporosis. Vertebral fracture assessment showed morphometric fractures in the lower thoracic and upper lumbar vertebrae. She was subsequently treated with IV administration of 5 mg of zoledronic acid. She was also readmitted multiple times after her initial admission due to the patient’s developing neutropenic fever, which was treated with filgrastim and antibiotics.

After starting mifepristone, her glycemic control improved to the point that insulin therapy could be subsequently discontinued. Her liver enzymes normalized, and ketoconazole was subsequently added for adjunct therapy to treat hypercortisolism, but the dose could not be optimized due to persistently elevated liver function tests. Hypokalemia management and resistant hypertension were additional challenges encountered by this patient.

At her follow-up visits, she had notably lost weight with the improvement of her leg edema. She continued to follow up with a nephrologist on an outpatient basis, and her normal potassium levels were normal on 40 meq of oral potassium chloride tablets four times a day and spironolactone 150 mg twice a day. She was followed up closely by her gynecologic oncologist and was on bevacizumab, topotecan, and paclitaxel before her unfortunate demise a few months later.


Cushing’s syndrome due to ectopic ACTH secretion only represents 9-18% of cases. Most primary endocrine tumors responsible for ectopic ACTH secretion are located in the chest [5]. Abdominal and retroperitoneal neuroendocrine tumors are the second- and third-most reported sites [5]. Neuroendocrine tumors of the cervix are incredibly rare [6-9].

A unique feature of this case is that the patient presented with Cushing’s syndrome due to neuroendocrine tumor metastases found five years after the primary site of the tumor was resected. For this patient, a biopsy of the liver confirmed a metastatic neuroendocrine tumor, but it is unknown if the other sites of metastases are implicated in the production of excess ACTH.

The management of this disease focuses on controlling hypercortisolism, consequent hyperglycemia, and hypokalemia. Surgical excision of ACTH-secreting neuroendocrine tumors is the most effective, but in cases where that is not possible, bilateral adrenalectomy and medical treatment are the next best treatments for this disease entity [10]. For this patient, bilateral adrenalectomy was not done as gynecologic oncology wanted to treat her with chemotherapy urgently due to the metastases and nature of the disease and felt that surgery and recovery would delay the start of chemotherapy.

We provided medical management for the patient’s hypercortisolism. Pharmacological therapy for hypercortisolism can be categorized into immediate-acting steroidogenesis inhibitors (metyrapone, ketoconazole, and etomidate), slow-acting cortisol-lowering drugs (mitotane), and glucocorticoid receptor antagonists (mifepristone) [5]. We initially chose mifepristone because it is indicated in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus and could be given safely despite the patient’s worsening liver function levels [11].

As demonstrated, the management of recurrent hypokalemia proved challenging in this patient. The phenomenon is well known to be induced by ectopic ACTH. Several mechanisms contribute to this. Activation of renal tubular type 1 (mineralocorticoid) receptors by cortisol is thought to be the mechanism that applies mainly to patients with severe hypercortisolism due to ectopic ACTH secretion. Additionally, there may also be an increase in the production of renin substrate from the liver. The high serum cortisol concentrations may not be completely inactivated by 11β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 in the kidney and overwhelm its ability to convert cortisol to cortisone, resulting in activation of mineralocorticoid receptors resulting in potassium loss in the distal tubules [12]. Hypokalemia may also result from adrenal hypersecretion of mineralocorticoids, such as deoxycorticosterone and corticosterone. This can also be amplified by mifepristone, as it is a glucocorticoid receptor antagonist that increases circulating cortisol levels [12].

Complications such as hypokalemia, hyperglycemia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, infections, muscle wasting, hypertension, and bone fractures can occur and can arise at any time throughout the course of the disease when urine-free cortisol is fivefold or more above the upper limit of normal [5]. Ketoconazole was initially considered for medical treatment, but due to mildly elevated liver enzymes during the initial presentation, we decided to use mifepristone instead. A small cohort study showed that severe hypercortisolism and increased baseline transaminase levels could be due to cortisol-induced hepatic steatosis [13]. Later in her course, ketoconazole was added to her mifepristone therapy to decrease adrenal cortisol production. Unfortunately, her dose could not be increased due to the patient’s persistently elevated liver enzymes.

Recurrent pancytopenia due to chemotherapy contributed to the protracted nature of this patient’s clinical course. Due to cortisol’s immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory effects, opportunistic infections can arise [14]. Since her initial hospitalization, she has been readmitted several times due to neutropenic fever, which was treated with filgrastim and antibiotics.


Ectopic Cushing’s syndrome due to metastatic neuroendocrine small-cell carcinoma is a rare condition with a poor prognosis. The options for treatment are few and not necessarily curative. There needs to be increased awareness of this serious and rare complication. Managing the condition can be a challenge and requires a multidisciplinary team approach to improve outcomes.


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Covid-19 and Cushing’s Disease in a Patient with ACTH-secreting Pituitary Carcinoma



The pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 is of an unprecedented magnitude and has made it challenging to properly treat patients with urgent or rare endocrine disorders. Little is known about the risk of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in patients with rare endocrine malignancies, such as pituitary carcinoma. We describe the case of a 43-year-old patient with adrenocorticotrophic hormone-secreting pituitary carcinoma who developed a severe COVID-19 infection. He had stabilized Cushing’s disease after multiple lines of treatment and was currently receiving maintenance immunotherapy with nivolumab (240 mg every 2 weeks) and steroidogenesis inhibition with ketoconazole (800 mg daily). On admission, he was urgently intubated for respiratory exhaustion. Supplementation of corticosteroid requirements consisted of high-dose dexamethasone, in analogy with the RECOVERY trial, followed by the reintroduction of ketoconazole under the coverage of a hydrocortisone stress regimen, which was continued at a dose depending on the current level of stress. He had a prolonged and complicated stay at the intensive care unit but was eventually discharged and able to continue his rehabilitation. The case points out that multiple risk factors for severe COVID-19 are present in patients with Cushing’s syndrome. ‘Block-replacement’ therapy with suppression of endogenous steroidogenesis and supplementation of corticosteroid requirements might be preferred in this patient population.

Learning points

  • Comorbidities for severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are frequently present in patients with Cushing’s syndrome.
  • ‘Block-replacement’ with suppression of endogenous steroidogenesis and supplementation of corticosteroid requirements might be preferred to reduce the need for biochemical monitoring and avoid adrenal insufficiency.
  • The optimal corticosteroid dose/choice for COVID-19 is unclear, especially in patients with endogenous glucocorticoid excess.
  • First-line surgery vs initial disease control with steroidogenesis inhibitors for Cushing’s disease should be discussed depending on the current healthcare situation.


The pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has had a significant impact on the health care systems to date. The clinical presentation of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is diverse, ranging from asymptomatic illness to respiratory failure requiring admission to the intensive care unit (ICU). Risk factors for severe course include old age, male gender, comorbidities such as arterial hypertension, diabetes mellitus, chronic lung-, heart-, liver- and kidney disease, malignancy, immunodeficiency and pregnancy (1). Little is known about the risk of COVID-19 in patients with rare endocrine malignancies, such as pituitary carcinoma.

Case presentation

This case concerns a 43-year-old man with adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary carcinoma (with cerebellar and cervical drop metastases) with a severe COVID-19 infection. He had previously received multiple treatment modalities including surgery, radiotherapy, ketoconazole, pasireotide, cabergoline, bilateral (subtotal) adrenalectomy and temozolomide chemotherapy as described elsewhere (2). His most recent therapy was a combination of immune checkpoint inhibitors consisting of ipilimumab (3 mg/kg) and nivolumab (1 mg/kg) (anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1, respectively) every 3 weeks for four cycles, after which maintenance therapy with nivolumab (240 mg) every 2 weeks was continued. Residual endogenous cortisol production was inhibited with ketoconazole 800 mg daily. He had stabilized disease with a decrease in plasma ACTH, urinary free cortisol and stable radiological findings (2). Surgical resection of the left adrenal remnant was planned but was not carried out due to the development of a COVID-19 infection.

In March 2021, he consulted our emergency department for severe respiratory complaints. He had been suffering from upper respiratory tract symptoms for one week, with progressive dyspnoea in the last three days. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 the day before admission. On examination, his O2 saturation was 72%, with tachypnoea (40/min) and bilateral pulmonary crepitations. His temperature was 37.2°C, blood pressure 124/86 mmHg and pulse rate 112 bpm. High-flow oxygen therapy was initiated but yielded insufficient improvement (O2 saturation of 89% and tachypnoea 35/min). He was urgently intubated for respiratory exhaustion.


Initial investigations showed type 1 respiratory insufficiency with PaO2 of 52.5 mmHg (normal 75–90), PaCO2 of 33.0 mmHg (normal 36–44), pH of 7.47 (normal 7.35–7.45) and a P/F ratio of 65.7 (normal >300). His inflammatory parameters were elevated with C-reactive protein level of 275.7 mg/L (normal <5·0) and white blood cell count of 7.1 × 10⁹ per L with 72.3% neutrophils. His most recent morning plasma ACTH-cortisol level (measured using the Elecsys electrochemiluminescence immunoassays on a Cobas 8000 immunoanalyzer [Roche Diagnostics]) before his admission was 213 ng/L (normal 7.2–63) and 195 µg/L (normal 62–180) respectively, while a repeat measurement 3 weeks after his admission demonstrated increased cortisol levels of 547 µg/L (possibly iatrogenic due to treatment with high-dose hydrocortisone) and a decreased ACTH of 130 ng/L.


On admission, he was started on high-dose dexamethasone therapy for 10 days together with broad-spectrum antibiotics for positive sputum cultures containing Serratia, methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus and Haemophilus influenzae. Thromboprophylaxis with an intermediate dose of low molecular weight heparin (tinzaparin 14 000 units daily for a body weight of 119 kg) was initiated. A ‘block-replacement’ regimen was adopted with the continuation of ketoconazole (restarted on day 11) in view of his endocrine treatment and the supplementation of hydrocortisone at a dose depending on the current level of stress. The consecutive daily dose of hydrocortisone and ketoconazole is shown in Fig. 1.

Figure 1View Full Size
Figure 1
‘Block-replacement’ therapy with ketoconazole and hydrocortisone/dexamethasone. Dexamethasone 10 mg daily was initially started as COVID-19 treatment, followed by hydrocortisone at a dose consistent with current levels of stress. Ketoconazole was restarted on day 11 and titrated to a dose of 800 mg daily to suppress endogenous glucocorticoid production.

Citation: Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Case Reports 2022, 1; 10.1530/EDM-21-0182

Outcome and follow-up

He developed multiple organ involvement, including metabolic acidosis, acute renal failure requiring continuous venovenous hemofiltration, acute coronary syndrome type 2, septic thrombophlebitis of the right jugular vein, and critical illness polyneuropathy. He was readmitted twice to the ICU, for ventilator-associated pneumonia and central line-associated bloodstream infection respectively. He eventually recovered and was discharged from the hospital to continue his rehabilitation.


We describe the case of a patient with severe COVID-19 infection with active Cushing’s disease due to pituitary carcinoma, who was treated with high-dose dexamethasone followed by ‘block-replacement’ therapy with hydrocortisone in combination with off-label use of ketoconazole as a steroidogenesis inhibitor. His hospitalization was prolonged by multiple readmissions to the ICU for infectious causes. Our case illustrates the presence of multiple comorbidities for a severe and complicated course of COVID-19 in a patient with active Cushing’s disease.

Dexamethasone was initially chosen as the preferred corticosteroid therapy, in analogy with the RECOVERY trial, in which dexamethasone at a dose of 6mg once daily (oral or i.v.) resulted in lower 28-day mortality in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen therapy or invasive mechanical ventilation (3). However, the optimal dose/choice of corticosteroid therapy is unclear, especially in a patient population with pre-existing hypercortisolaemia. A similar survival benefit for hydrocortisone compared to dexamethasone has yet to be convincingly demonstrated. This may be explained by differences in anti-inflammatory activity but could also be due to the fact that recent studies with hydrocortisone were stopped early and were underpowered (45).

Multiple risk factors for a complicated course of COVID-19 are present in patients with Cushing’s syndrome and might increase morbidity and mortality (67). These include a history of obesity, arterial hypertension and impaired glucose metabolism. Prevention and treatment of these pre-existing comorbidities are essential.

Patients with Cushing’s syndrome also have an increased thromboembolic risk, which is further accentuated by the development of severe COVID-19 infection (67). Thromboprophylaxis with low molecular weight heparin is associated with lower mortality in COVID-19 patients with high sepsis‐induced coagulopathy score or high D-dimer levels (8) and is presently widely used in the treatment of severe COVID-19 disease (9). Subsequently, this treatment is indicated in hospitalized COVID-19 patients with Cushing’s syndrome. It is unclear whether therapeutic anticoagulation dosing could provide additional benefits (67). An algorithm based on the International Society on Thrombosis and Hemostasis-Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation score was proposed to evaluate the ideal anticoagulation therapy in severe/critical COVID-19 patients, with an indication for therapeutic low molecular weight heparin dose at a score ≥5 (9).

Furthermore, the chronic cortisol excess induces suppression of the innate and adaptive immune response. Patients with Cushing’s syndrome, especially when severe and active, should be considered immunocompromised and have increased susceptibility for viral and other (hospital-acquired) infections. Prophylaxis for Pneumocystis jirovecii with trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole should therefore be considered (67).

Additionally, there is a particular link between the pathophysiology of COVID-19 and Cushing’s syndrome. The SARS-CoV-2 virus (as well as other coronaviruses) enter human cells by binding the ACE2 receptor. The transmembrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2), expressed by endothelial cells, is additionally required for the priming of the spike-protein of SARS-CoV-2, leading to viral entry. TMPRSS2 was studied in prostate cancer and found to be regulated by androgen signalling. Consequently, the androgen excess frequently associated with Cushing’s syndrome might be an additional risk factor for contracting COVID-19 via higher TMPRSS2 expression (10), especially in women, in whom the effect of excess androgen would be more noticeable compared to male patients with Cushing’s syndrome.

Treating Cushing’s syndrome with a ‘block-replacement’ approach, with suppression of endogenous steroidogenesis and supplementation of corticosteroid requirements, is an approach that should be considered, especially in severe or cyclic disease. The use of this method might decrease the need for monitoring and reduce the occurrence of adrenal insufficiency (7). Our patient was on treatment with ketoconazole, which was interrupted at initial presentation and then restarted under the coverage of a hydrocortisone stress regimen. Ketoconazole was chosen because of its availability. Advantages of ketoconazole over metyrapone include its antifungal activity with the potential for prevention of invasive pulmonary fungal infections, as well as its antiandrogen action (especially in female patients) and subsequent inhibition of TMPRSS2 expression (10). Regular monitoring of the liver function (every month for the first 3 months, at therapy initiation or dose increase) is necessary. Caution is needed due to its inhibition of multiple cytochrome P450 enzymes (including CYP3A4) and subsequently greater risk of drug-drug interactions vs metyrapone (710). Another disadvantage of ketoconazole is the need for oral administration. In our patient, ketoconazole was delivered through a nasogastric tube. i.v. etomidate is an alternative in case of an unavailable enteral route.

Finally, as a general point, the first-line treatment of a patient with a novel diagnosis of Cushing’s disease is transsphenoidal surgery. Recent endocrine recommendations pointed out the possibility of initial disease control with steroidogenesis inhibitors in patients without an indication for urgent intervention during a high prevalence of COVID-19 (7). This would allow the optimalization of metabolic parameters; emphasizing that the short-to mid-term prognosis is related to the cortisol excess and not its cause. Surgery could then be postponed until the health situation allows for safe elective surgery (7). This decision depends of course on the evolution of COVID-19 and the healthcare system in each country and should be closely monitored by policymakers and physicians.

Declaration of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest that could be perceived as prejudicing the impartiality of the research reported.


This work did not receive any specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sector.

Patient consent

Written informed consent for publication of their clinical details and/or clinical images was obtained from the patient.

Author contribution statement

J M K de Filette is an endocrinologist-in-training and was the main author. All authors were involved in the clinical care of the patient. All authors contributed to the reviewing and editing process and approved the final version of the manuscript.


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.


Food-dependent Cushing syndrome: a new entity of organic hypercorticism

Matejka G, et al. Rev Med Interne. 1996.


Diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome is quite difficult in endocrinology. Spontaneous Cushing’s syndrome is usually divided into two subgroups, one which is dependent on corticotropin (ACTH) and another one which is not.

In the first class are Cushing’s disease, the ectopic corticotropin syndrome and the rare ectopic corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) syndrome; these ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome have usually diffusely enlarged adrenal glands.

In the second class are cortisol producing unilateral adrenocortical adenomas or carcinomas, and the recent Cushing’s syndrome with food dependent periodic hormonogenesis.

This food dependent Cushing’s syndrome is an ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome with multinodular enlargement of both adrenal glands. Pathogenesis is an aberrant adrenal sensitivity to physiologic secretion of gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP). Ectopic expression of GIP receptors on adrenal cells involve pathologic food induced cortisol secretion.

Food dependent Cushing’s syndrome is a new cause of Cushing’s syndrome. Food induced cortisol secretion may have to be explored in the ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome.


8758532 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

Full text

Full text from provider (Elsevier Science) Article in French.


Biography of a Food-Dependent Cushing’s patient

Small cell carcinoma of the vagina causing Cushing’s syndrome by ectopic production and secretion of ACTH

Hope found this interesting info for us:

Small cell carcinoma of the vagina causing Cushing’s syndrome by ectopic production and secretion of ACTH: a case report.

K M Colleran, M R Burge, L A Crooks, R I Dorin

Department of Medicine, Albuquerque VA Medical Center and University of New Mexico School of Medicine, 87108, USA.

BACKGROUND: Small cell carcinomas of pulmonary or extrapulmonary origin are neuroendocrine tumors classically associated with ectopic hormone production, particularly ACTH secretion resulting in Cushing’s syndrome. However, ectopic Cushing’s syndrome has not previously been reported in the setting of small cell carcinoma of the vagina.

METHODS: A primary vaginal tumor with hepatic metastases was evaluated with light microscopy. Serum cortisol and plasma ACTH levels were evaluated by radioimmunoassay and immunoradiometric assay, respectively, during a standard high-dose (8 mg) overnight dexamethasone suppression test.

RESULTS: Vaginal small cell carcinoma with hepatic metastases was demonstrated. Electrolyte abnormalities, elevated cortisol and ACTH levels, and failure to suppress ACTH secretion during high-dose dexamethasone administration confirmed the diagnosis of ectopic ACTH syndrome.

CONCLUSIONS: This case report establishes a clinical association between vaginal small cell carcinoma and ectopic Cushing’s syndrome, confirming the neuroendocrine potential of this malignancy and features common to small cell neoplasms originating in other sites.

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