Study Describes 6 Common Surgical Failures in Cushing’s Disease Treatment

To help improve the effectiveness of surgical treatment of Cushing’s disease, researchers conducted a study to determine common failures. They classified these failures into six different categories.

Results were reported in the study, “Root cause analysis of diagnostic and surgical failures in the treatment of suspected Cushing’s disease,” published in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience.

The surgical removal of lesions that secrete excess adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is the first line of treatment for patients with Cushing’s disease. But while this approach is effective in reducing cortisol levels, up to 31 percent of patients fail to achieve remission.

When initial surgery is ineffective, additional surgical procedures may help to improve patient outcomes. Medications also are used for those who do not see results from surgery.

Recognizing the factors that contribute to the failure of surgical treatment is crucial to avoiding a deterioration of patient health and to improving long-term outcomes.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School examined the clinical records of 51 patients suspected of having Cushing’s disease. These patients were followed and surgically treated at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, from April 2008 to July 2017.

In more than 82 percent of the cases, tissue removed during surgery confirmed that the patients had excess ACTH caused by benign tumors in the adrenal gland. Among the remaining patients, two had additional ACTH-secreting tumors, four had no obvious tumor or abnormal tissue, one had a pituitary mass without ACTH secretion, and one had no evidence of tissue changes despite the detection of a tumor during exploratory surgery.

They were followed for an average of 18.3 months, during which 42 patients achieved remission as confirmed by blood tests. Of these, 34 patients did not require additional treatment; four patients needed additional surgeries to achieve control over cortisol levels; and four patients required additional radiosurgery.

Based on long-term patient outcomes, researchers were able to identify six categories of common diagnostic and surgical failures. They include:

  • persistently high cortisol levels despite the successful removal of lesions
  • the failure of tumor resection
  • recurrence of disease
  • a failure to identify the source of ACTH secretion
  • the absence of identifiable lesions during exploratory surgery
  • concurrent tumors.

While the first three are common among patients with a visible lesion on imaging scans, the latter three are characteristic of patients in whom physicians fail to detect a lesion.

Investigators believe that anticipating and recognizing these common failures may help to improve the effectiveness of surgery, symptom management, and overall treatment outcomes.

“The success of surgical intervention can be enhanced greatly by improving patient selection and surgical management by anticipating and subsequently deterring the six common failures described above,” the team concluded. They added that better imaging methods also might improve outcomes for Cushing’s disease patients.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/05/15/cushings-disease-surgery-6-common-failures-found-retrospective-study/

Rare Malignant Tumor of Adrenal Gland Led to Cushing’s, Girl’s Death

While adrenocortical carcinoma — a malignant tumor of the adrenal gland — appears only rarely in children, the tumor may cause secondary Cushing’s syndrome in these patients, a new case report shows.

Early diagnosis of the causes of Cushing’s syndrome could improve the prognosis of these children, researchers say.

The study, “Cushing Syndrome Revealing an Adrenocortical Carcinoma,” was published in the Open Journal of Pediatrics.

Adrenocortical carcinoma is a malignant tumor that develops in the cortex of the adrenal gland. It usually is identified by increased amounts of hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands, like cortisol.

This tumor type is very rare in children, representing fewer than two in every 1,000 pediatric tumors.

Researchers at the University Hospital Center Souro Sanou, in Burquina Faso (West Africa), described the case of a 10-year-old girl who developed this rare cancer.

The patient’s first symptoms were loss of consciousness and recurrent seizures without fever. The patient also had experienced excessive weight gain in the preceding months. At admission she was in a light state of coma and showed obesity in the face and trunk.

An initial analysis of blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid failed to detect any alterations, with no diabetes, kidney damage, or infection identified. And, even though no lesions or alteration were seen in the pituitary gland region, brain swelling was detected.

While in the hospital, the patient’s condition continued to deteriorate. She developed fever and difficulty speaking, while showing persistent seizures.

In the absence of a diagnosis, physicians focused on the safeguard of major vital function, control of seizures, and administration of large-spectrum antibiotics. Her condition improved slightly, regaining consciousness and control of seizures.

One month later, however, the patient developed symptoms that are commonly associated with increased levels of cortisol and male sex hormones, including obesity and early development of pubic hair.

After confirming high cortisol levels, physicians examined the patient’s abdominal region,  which revealed a tumor in the left adrenal gland.

The patient received a ketoconazole treatment and a surgery to remove the tumor was planned. But her condition worsened, with development of malignant hypertension and convulsive illness, which led to her death before the tumor was removed.

“The delay in the diagnosis and the insufficiency of the therapeutic means darken the prognosis in our context,” the researchers wrote.

“[Adrenocortical carcinoma] diagnosis should be considered in presence of virilization and early signs of puberty,” the researchers suggested. “Early diagnosis and multidisciplinary management of adrenocortical carcinoma could improve the prognosis in children.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/05/04/rare-malignant-tumor-adrenal-gland-caused-cushings-case-report/

Cushing’s Patient Exhibits Cortisol-Secreting Lesions in Both Adrenal Glands

In rare cases, Cushing’s syndrome may be caused by cortisol-secreting masses in both adrenal glands, a case report shows.

The study with that finding, “ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome with bilateral cortisol-secreting adrenal adenomas: a case report and review of literatures” was published in BMC Endocrine Disorders.

Cushing’s syndrome results from the prolonged secretion of excess cortisol. While most cases are caused by tumors in the pituitary gland, up to 20 percent result from tumors in the adrenal glands.

Occasionally, Cushing’s syndrome is caused by masses in both adrenal glands, which may be similar or display different properties. “Determining the nature and function of bilateral adrenal masses is always a challenge in clinical practice,” researchers said.

Now, physicians at Sichuan University in China, reported the case of a 55-year-old woman who complained of difficulty breathing for more than 10 years.

The patient had developed obesity of the trunk and face over the past two years, and had been diagnosed with hypertension 10 years before. She also had high lipid levels for the past five years.

The patient was taking Avapro (irbesartan), Lopressor (metoprolol), Procardia XL (nifedipine), and statins for these disorders. No other health conditions or treatments were reported.

Physical examination showed a moon-shaped face, truncal obesity, and accumulation of fat in the back of the neck and upper back (aka buffalo hump). She also had discoloration of the lower limbs, with slight fluid accumulation and muscle weakness.

Routine blood analysis did not reveal significant changes, but hormone analysis showed high cortisol levels and low adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) was low.

The amount of 24-hour urine-free cortisol was almost five times higher than the upper normal limit. Also, the patients had reduced response to corticosteroids treatment, showing even higher cortisol levels upon treatment with 1 mg dexamethasone. Additional evaluations revealed reduced bone mineral density, indicative of osteoporosis.

Together, the findings led to a diagnosis of ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome.

To identify what was causing Cushing’s syndrome, the team looked at the adrenal glands. They detected three lesions, one on the right side measuring 2.5 centimeters, and two on the left side, with 2.3 cm and 0.6 cm respectively. The masses in both sides were actively producing cortisol in similar proportions.

These results confirmed that the patient had Cushing’s syndrome induced by bilateral adrenal excessive cortisol secretion.

Because the patient had poor cardiac function, researchers planned a two-step operation. First, they removed the right adrenal gland laparoscopically, followed by the left adrenal gland two months later. The patient started replacement therapy with hydrocortisone, and her cortisol levels improved significantly, returning to normal levels. She also lost 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of body weight in the following year.

“The optimal treatment for patients with bilateral cortisol-secreting adenomas remains uncertain,” the researchers wrote. Although there are no reports of recurrence after surgical treatment, the long-term outcome of these patients remains unclear, and “lifelong follow-up of the patient is required,” they added.

Bilateral cortisol-secreting adrenal adenomas are rare, having been reported in only 15 other studies, the team wrote. Interestingly, some features reported in this study also were identified by other researchers, including the fact that bilateral cortisol-secreting adrenal lesions are more predominantly found in females during adulthood. Also, the size of the lesions commonly range between 1 to 5 centimeters when detected, and appear at approximately the same time in both adrenal glands.

Although there are no treatment guidelines for these cases, surgical removal of the lesions or adrenal glands, plus glucocorticoid replacement therapy, is the mostly used therapeutic approach. Importantly, the researchers noted that patients who underwent partial gland removal were able to withdraw from glucocorticoid replacement therapy during follow-up.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/05/03/cushings-patient-has-cortisol-secreting-lesions-in-both-adrenal-glands/

Blood Lipid Levels Linked to High Blood Pressure in Cushing’s Disease Patients

High lipid levels in the blood may lead to elevated blood pressure in patients with Cushing’s disease, a Chinese study shows.

The study, “Evaluation of Lipid Profile and Its Relationship with Blood Pressure in Patients with Cushing’s Disease,” appeared in the journal Endocrine Connections.

Patients with Cushing’s disease often have chronic hypertension, or high blood pressure, a condition that puts them at risk for cardiovascular disease. While the mechanisms of Cushing’s-related high blood pressure are not fully understood, researchers believe that high levels of cortisol lead to chronic hypertension through increased cardiac output, vascular resistance, and reactivity to blood vessel constrictors.

In children and adults with Cushing’s syndrome, the relationship between increased cortisol levels and higher blood pressure has also been reported. Patients with Cushing’s syndrome may remain hypertensive even after surgery to lower their cortisol levels, suggesting their hypertension is caused by changes in blood vessels.

Studies have shown that Cushing’s patients have certain changes, such as increased wall thickness, in small arteries. The renin-angiotensin system, which can be activated by glucocorticoids like cortisol, is a possible factor contributing to vascular changes by increasing the uptake of LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C) — the “bad” cholesterol — in vascular cells.

Prior research showed that lowering cholesterol levels could benefit patients with hypertension and normal lipid levels by decreasing the stiffness of large arteries. However, the link between blood lipids and hypertension in Cushing’s disease patients is largely unexplored.

The study included 84 patients (70 women) referred to a hospital in China for evaluation and diagnosis of Cushing’s disease. For each patient, researchers measured body mass index, blood pressure, lipid profile, and several other biomarkers of disease.

Patients with high LDL-cholesterol had higher body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, and apolipoproteinB (apoB), a potential indicator of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Data further revealed an association between blood pressure and lipid profile, including cholesterol, triglycerides, apoB and LDL-c. “The results strongly suggested that CHO (cholesterol), LDL-c and apoB might predict hypertension more precisely in [Cushing’s disease],” the scientists wrote.

They further add that high cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and apoB might be contributing to high blood pressure by increasing vessel stiffness.

Additional analysis showed that patients with higher levels of “bad” cholesterol — 3.37 mmol/L or higher — had higher blood pressure. This finding remained true, even when patients were receiving statins to lower their cholesterol levels.

No association was found between blood pressure and plasma cortisol, UFC, adrenocorticotropic hormone, or glucose levels in Cushing’s disease patients.

These findings raise some questions on whether lipid-lowering treatment for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease would be beneficial for Cushing’s disease patients. Further studies addressing this question are warranted.

Adapted from https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/04/24/blood-pressure-linked-lipid-levels-cushings-disease-study/

ACTH/Cortisol Ratio May Be Simple, Reliable Test to Diagnose Cushing’s Disease

The ratio between adrenocorticotropic hormone levels and cortisol levels in the blood is higher among Cushing’s disease patients than in healthy people, a new study has found, suggesting that measurement could be used to help diagnose the disease.

Also, higher values at diagnosis could predict if the disease will recur and indicate larger and more invasive tumors.

The research, “The Utility of Preoperative ACTH/Cortisol Ratio for the Diagnosis and Prognosis of Cushing’s Disease,” was published in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice.

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is characterized by excess levels of cortisol. In patients with suspected CS, clinicians recommend testing late-night salivary or plasma (blood) cortisol, 24-hour urine-free cortisol (UC), as well as morning cortisol levels after low-dose suppression with dexamethasone, a corticosteroid.

CS may be ACTH-dependent or ACTH-independent, meaning that the high cortisol levels are caused by excess ACTH production.

Patients with CD have elevated levels of ACTH. A tumor, usually an adenoma, causes the pituitary gland to produce excess levels of ACTH, which stimulate the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cortisol usually inhibits ACTH production. However, in CD patients, this feedback mechanism is absent.

Despite extensive research and clinical data, the variable and usually nonspecific signs and symptoms of CD still represent relevant challenges for diagnosis. Clinical manifestations must be associated with biochemical tests, which often have led to conflicting results.

Studies showed that although ACTH levels correlate with the size of the pituitary adenoma, the levels of cortisol do not increase as much. In fact, lower cortisol/ACTH ratios have been reported in patients with macroadenoma – which is greater than 10 millimeters in size – than in those with microadenoma, which is smaller than 10 millimeters.

Conversely, the research team hypothesized that besides their utility for determining the cause of CS, the inverse ratio – ACTH/cortisol – also may be useful for diagnosis.

The team evaluated the pretreatment plasma ACTH/cortisol levels in CS patients with excess cortisol production due to abnormal pituitary or adrenal function. Data from patients were compared with that of individuals without CS.

The study included 145 CS patients diagnosed from 2007 to 2016, 119 patients with CD, 26 with ACTH-independent CS (AICS), and 114 controls with no CS.

Patients’ clinical, laboratory, imaging, postsurgical and follow-up data were analyzed.

Results showed that patients with CD had a significantly higher basal ACTH/cortisol ratio than controls or those with AICS.

“These results showed ACTH/cortisol ratio might be a simple and useful test for the diagnosis of ACTH-dependent CS,” the researchers wrote.

Importantly, the scientists observed that a ACTH/cortisol ratio above 2.5 indicated identified 82 percent of positive CS cases and 63 percent of controls.

Overall, “an ACTH/cortisol ratio [greater than] 2.5 would be beneficial to diagnose CD together with other diagnostic tests,” they concluded.

Patients with recurrent CD showed higher pretreatment ACTH levels and ACTH/cortisol ratio than those who achieved sustained remission. CD patients also exhibited more invasive, atypical and larger tumors, as well as lower postoperative remission and higher recurrence rates.

“Higher ACTH/cortisol ratio might predict poorer prognosis,” the investigators said.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/16/acth-cortisol-ratio-reliable-test-diagnose-cushings-disease/

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