Most Subclinical Cushing’s Patients Don’t Require Glucocorticoids After Adrenalectomy

Patients with subclinical hypercortisolism, i.e., without symptoms of cortisol overproduction, and adrenal incidentalomas recover their hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function after surgery faster than those with Cushing’s syndrome (CS), according to a study.

Moreover, the researchers found that an HPA function analysis conducted immediately after the surgical removal of adrenal incidentalomas — adrenal tumors discovered by chance in imaging tests — could identify patients in need of glucocorticoid replacement before discharge.

Using this approach, they found that most subclinical patients did not require treatment with hydrocortisone, a glucocorticoid taken to compensate for low levels of cortisol in the body, after surgery.

The study, “Alterations in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal function immediately after resection of adrenal adenomas in patients with Cushing’s syndrome and others with incidentalomas and subclinical hypercortisolism,” was published in Endocrine.

The HPA axis is the body’s central stress response system. The hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) that acts on the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), leading the adrenal gland to produce cortisol.

As the body’s defense mechanism to avoid excessive cortisol secretion, high cortisol levels alert the hypothalamus to stop producing CRH and the pituitary gland to stop making ACTH.

Therefore, in diseases associated with chronically elevated cortisol levels, such as Cushing’s syndrome and adrenal incidentalomas, there’s suppression of the HPA axis.

After an adrenalectomy, which is the surgical removal of one or both adrenal glands, patients often have low cortisol levels (hypocortisolism) and require glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

“Most studies addressing the peri-operative management of patients with adrenal hypercortisolism have reported that irrespective of how mild the hypercortisolism was, such patients were given glucocorticoids before, during and after adrenalectomy,” the researchers wrote.

Evidence also shows that, after surgery, glucocorticoid therapy is administered for months before attempting to test for recovery of HPA function.

For the past 30 years, researchers at the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center have withheld glucocorticoid therapy in the postoperative management of patients with ACTH-secreting pituitary adenomas until there’s proof of hypocortisolism.

“The approach offered us the opportunity to examine peri-operative hormonal alterations and demonstrate their importance in predicting need for replacement therapy, as well as future recurrences,” they said.

In this prospective observational study, the investigators extended their approach to patients with subclinical hypercortisolism.

“The primary goal of the study was to examine rapid alteration in HPA function in patients with presumably suppressed axis and appreciate the modulating impact of surgical stress in that setting,” they wrote. Collected data was used to decide whether to start glucocorticoid therapy.

The analysis included 14 patients with Cushing’s syndrome and 19 individuals with subclinical hypercortisolism and an adrenal incidentaloma. All participants had undergone surgical removal of a cortisol-secreting adrenal tumor.

“None of the patients received exogenous glucocorticoids during the year preceding their evaluation nor were they taking medications or had other illnesses that could influence HPA function or serum cortisol measurements,” the researchers noted.

Glucocorticoid therapy was not administered before or during surgery.

To evaluate HPA function, the clinical team took blood samples before and at one, two, four, six, and eight hours after the adrenalectomy to determine levels of plasma ACTH, serum cortisol, and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) — a hormone produced by the adrenal glands.

Pre-surgery assessment of both groups showed that patients with an incidentaloma plus subclinical hypercortisolism had larger adrenal masses, higher ACTH, and DHEA-S levels, but less serum cortisol after adrenal function suppression testing with dexamethasone.

Dexamethasone is a man-made version of cortisol that, in a normal setting, makes the body produce less cortisol. But in patients with a suppressed HPA axis, cortisol levels remain high.

After the adrenalectomy, the ACTH concentrations in both groups of patients increased. This was found to be negatively correlated with pre-operative dexamethasone-suppressed cortisol levels.

Investigators reported that “serum DHEA-S levels in patients with Cushing’s syndrome declined further after adrenalectomy and were undetectable by the 8th postoperative hour,” while incidentaloma patients’ DHEA-S concentrations remained unchanged for the eight-hour postoperative period.

Eight hours after surgery, all Cushing’s syndrome patients had serum cortisol levels of less than 2 ug/dL, indicating suppressed HPA function. As a result, all of these patients required glucocorticoid therapy for several months to make up for HPA axis suppression.

“The decline in serum cortisol levels was slower and less steep [in the incidentaloma group] when compared to that observed in patients with Cushing’s syndrome. At the 6th–8th postoperative hours only 5/19 patients [26%] with subclinical hypercortisolism had serum cortisol levels at ≤3ug/dL and these 5 were started on hydrocortisone therapy,” the researchers wrote.

Replacement therapy in the subclinical hypercortisolism group was continued for up to four weeks.

Results suggest that patients with an incidentaloma plus subclinical hypercortisolism did not have an entirely suppressed HPA axis, as they were able to recover its function much faster than the CS group after surgical stress.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/10/11/most-subclinical-cushings-patients-dont-need-glucocorticoids-post-surgery-study/?utm_source=Cushing%27s+Disease+News&utm_campaign=a881a1593b-RSS_WEEKLY_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ad0d802c5b-a881a1593b-72451321

Rare Prostate Cancer Associated with Cushing’s Syndrome

A patient with depression developed Cushing’s syndrome (CS) because of a rare ACTH-secreting small cell cancer of the prostate, a case study reports.

The case report, “An unusual cause of depression in an older man: Cushing’s syndrome resulting from metastatic small cell cancer of the prostate,” was published in the “Lesson of the Month” section of Clinical Medicine.

Ectopic CS is a condition caused by an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting tumor outside the pituitary or adrenal glands. The excess ACTH then acts on the adrenal glands, causing them to produce too much cortisol.

Small cell cancer is more common in older men, those in their 60s or 70s. Sources of ectopic ACTH synthesis arising in the pelvis are rare; nonetheless, ACTH overproduction has been linked to tumors in the gonads and genitourinary organs, including the prostate.

Still, evidence suggests there are less than 30 published cases reporting ectopic CS caused by prostate cancer.

Researchers from the Southern Adelaide Local Health Network and the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia described the case of an 84-year-old man who complained of fatigue, back pain, and lack of appetite.

Blood tests revealed mildly elevated prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and creatinine levels, which could indicate the presence of prostate cancer and impaired kidney function, respectively.

The patient had a history of locally invasive prostate cancer even though he didn’t experience any symptoms of this disease.

Ultrasound examination showed an enlarged prostate plus obstructed ureters — the tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder. To remove the obstruction, doctors inserted a thin tube into both ureters and restored urine flow.

After the procedure, the man had low levels of calcium, a depressed mood, and back pain, all of which compromised his recovery. Imaging of his back showed no obvious reason for his complaints, and he was discharged.

Eight days later, the patient went to the emergency room of a large public hospital because of back pain radiating to his left buttock. The man also had mild proximal weakness on both sides. He was thinner, and had low levels of calcium, high blood pressure and serum bicarbonate levels, plus elevated blood sugar. In addition, his depression was much worse.

A psychiatrist prescribed him an antidepressant called mirtazapine, and regular follow-up showed that his mood did improve with therapy.

A computed tomography (CT) scan revealed a 10.5 cm tumor on the prostate and metastasis on the lungs and liver. Further testing showed high serum cortisol and ACTH levels, consistent with a diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome.

But researchers could not identify the ACTH source, and three weeks later, the patient died of a generalized bacterial infection, despite treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics.

An autopsy revealed that the cancer had spread to the pelvic sidewalls and to one of the adrenal glands. Tissue analysis revealed that the patient had two types of cancer: acinar adenocarcinoma and small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma — which could explain the excess ACTH.

Cause of death was bronchopneumonia, a severe inflammation of the lungs, triggered by an invasive fungal infection.

Investigators believe there are things to be learned from this case, saying, “Neither the visceral metastases nor aggressive growth of the pelvic mass noted on imaging were typical of prostatic adenocarcinoma. [Plus], an incomplete diagnosis at death was the precipitant for a post-mortem examination. The autopsy findings were beneficial to the patient’s family and treating team. The case was discussed at a regular teaching meeting at a large tertiary hospital and, thus, was beneficial to a wide medical audience.”

Although a rare cause of ectopic ACTH synthesis, small cell prostate cancer should be considered in men presenting with Cushing’s syndrome, especially in those with a “mystery” source of ACTH overproduction.

“This case highlights the importance of multidisciplinary evaluation of clinical cases both [before and after death], and is a fine example of how autopsy findings can be used to benefit a wide audience,” the researchers concluded.

https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/10/16/rare-prostate-cancer-prostate-associated-cushings-syndrome-case-report/

Adrenal Venous Sampling Helps Surgical Decisions in Type of Cushing’s

Cushing’s syndrome patients with tumors on both adrenal glands — which sit on top of the kidneys — could undergo adrenal venous sampling, a procedure where blood samples are taken from both adrenal glands to determine which tumors to remove, researchers suggest.

Their study, “Outcomes of Adrenal Venous Sampling in Patients with Bilateral Adrenal Masses and ACTH-Independent Cushing’s Syndrome,” was published in the World Journal of Surgery. The work was a collaboration between SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse and the University of Pittsburgh.

Cushing’s syndrome, a condition characterized by excess cortisol, can be divided into two main subtypes. In some patients, the disease is dependent on tumors secreting the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. In others, adrenal tumors are solely responsible for excess cortisol and do not require ACTH for functioning.

ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome (AICS), the latter subtype, constitutes about 10% to 15% of endogenous — an overproduction of cortisol within the body — Cushing’s syndrome cases, with cortisol-secreting adenomas in just one gland (unilateral) being the most common cause.

Compared to unilateral adenomas, adrenal tumors in both glands (bilateral) in patients with AICS are difficult to diagnose. Disease management in these rare cases depends on the challenging determination of the lesion’s exact location and of the functional status of the benign tumors (if they are actively secreting cortisol).

Surgical removal of both adrenal glands, also known as bilateral adrenalectomy, “ensures cure of AICS, but leads to permanent corticosteroid dependence and a lifelong risk of adrenal crisis,” investigators explained. Therefore, screening for the presence of unilateral or bilateral adenomas is essential to avoid unnecessary surgery.

“Adrenal venous sampling (AVS) has been reported in a single institutional series … to aid in successful localization of cortisol-secreting adrenal adenomas in patients with bilateral adrenal masses and AICS,” researchers wrote.

Researchers retrospectively assessed the usefulness of AVS in guiding management of patients with bilateral adrenal masses plus AICS.

Nine women (age 51-73) with bilateral adrenal masses and AICS were included in the study. All subjects had undergone AVS at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center from 2008 to 2016. None of the patients had apparent symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.

“Samples were obtained for testing of epinephrine [also called adrenaline] and cortisol from both [adrenal veins] and the external iliac vein. Multiple samples were obtained to ensure adequate sampling,” they wrote.

Adrenal glands produce cortisol and epinephrine, among other hormones, which are critical for maintaining good health. In AICS, there’s an overproduction of both hormones that’s independent on the release of ACTH, which is produced by the brain’s pituitary gland.

Successful adrenal venous sampling was achieved in eight women. “One patient with unsuccessful catheterization had [other additional diseases] and passed away from unrelated reasons,” researchers reported.

AVS results indicated that all patients had bilateral cortisol-secreting adenomas.

“Surgical management was strongly influenced by adrenal mass size. However, AVS may have influenced surgical decision-making in some cases, particularly when minimal difference in size was noted in adrenal mass sizes,” they reported.

Six women underwent adrenalectomy: three had the gland with larger size mass removed (unilateral type of surgery); two had both glands removed; and one had the right gland removed followed by the left one, five months later, due to continuous hormonal overproduction without experiencing symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.

Evidence suggests that removal of the larger adrenal mass in patients with bilateral cortisol-secreting adenomas improves Cushing’s syndrome presentation.

In theory, unilateral adrenalectomy reduces cortisol production through the removal of the oversecreting mass. Because of this, unilateral adrenalectomy of the larger adrenal mass was chosen in half of this study’s surgical cases, instead of bilateral adrenalectomy.

Tissue analysis revealed multiple-lump masses, also known as macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (MAH), in all six surgical cases.

In addition, computed tomography (CT) scan findings were predictive of bilateral MAH, with scans showing evidence of one or multiple nodules on one or both adrenal glands.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the second study to evaluate the utility of AVS in guiding management of patients with bilateral adrenal masses and AICS,” investigators said.

The first study was by Young and included 10 patients with a more severe presentation of Cushing’s syndrome and other individual characteristics, which contributed to the differences in results, compared to the current study. In Young’s study, half the subjects had unilateral adrenal masses.

Patients with bilateral cortisol-secreting masses frequently have a milder form of Cushing’s syndrome, which corroborates researchers’ findings.

Despite suggesting that adrenal venous sampling is useful in excluding a unilateral adenoma as the cause of AICS, this study’s sample size is small.

“More data are needed before AVS can be advocated as essential for management of patients with bilateral adrenal masses and AICS,” researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/10/02/adrenal-venous-sampling-helps-surgical-decisions-type-cushings-syndrome/?utm_source=Cushing%27s+Disease+News&utm_campaign=a990429aad-RSS_WEEKLY_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ad0d802c5b-a990429aad-72451321

Metyrapone Reduced Urinary-Free Cortisol Levels in Cushing Syndrome

Metyrapone treatments helped patients with Cushing syndrome reach normal, urinary-free cortisol levels in the short-term and also had long-term benefits, according to a study published in Endocrine.

This observational, longitudinal study evaluated the effects of the 11β -hydroxylase inhibitor metyrapone on adult patients with Cushing syndrome. Urinary-free cortisol and late-night salivary cortisol levels were evaluated in 31 patients who were already treated with metyrapone to monitor cortisol normalization and rhythm.

The average length of metyrapone treatment was 9 months, and 6 patients had 24 months of treatment. After 1 month of treatment, the mean urinary-free cortisol was reduced from baseline by 67% and mean late-night salivary cortisol level decreased by 57%.

Analyzing only patients with severe hypercortisolism, after 1 month of treatment, the mean urinary-free cortisol decreased by 86% and the mean late-night salivary cortisol level decreased 80%. After 3 months, normalization of the mean urinary-free cortisol was established in 68% of patients. Mean late-night salivary cortisol levels took longer to decrease, especially in severe and very severe hypercortisolism, which could take 6 months to drop. Treatment was more successful at normalizing cortisol excretion (70%) than cortisol rhythm (37%). Nausea, abdominal pain, and dizziness were the most common adverse events, but no severe adverse event was reported.

Future research is needed to evaluate a larger cohort with randomized dosages and stricter inclusion criteria to evaluate metyrapone’s effects on cortisol further.

Study researchers conclude that metyrapone was successful and safe in lowering urinary-free cortisol after just 1 month of treatment and controlling long-term levels in patients with Cushing syndrome.

This study was supported by Novartis.

Reference

Ceccato F, Zilio M, Barbot M, et al. Metyrapone treatment in Cushing’s syndrome: a real-life study [published online July 16, 2018]. Endocrine. doi: 10.1007/s12020-018-1675-4

From https://www.endocrinologyadvisor.com/general-endocrinology/metyrapone-cushing-syndrome/article/786716/

Cushing’s Syndrome Eludes Treatment Paradigm or Standard Approach to Care

Results of two systematic reviews indicate that while surgery is the preferred treatment, many patients present with contraindications without an accepted management paradigm leaving clinicians to follow a patient-centric approach to care.

With commentary by Eliza B. Geer, MD

Cushing’s syndrome may arise from an endogenous glucocorticoid excess is either adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent or ACTH-independent; each variation has numerous underlying causes, including pituitary tumor, adrenal tumor, or other unknown causes.

Although rare, ectopic Cushing’s syndrome results from a non-pituitary ACTH-producing source. Cushing’s disease, a type of Cushing’s syndrome, affects an estimated 1.2 to 2.4 million people each year, and is caused by an ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma.1

While surgery is preferred for treatment of Cushing's syndrome many patients need a medical approach instead.

Gaining insights into treatment preferences and efficacy for Cushing’s syndrome were the focus of two separate systematic reviews and meta-analyses, both published in the journal, Pituitary: one regarding medical treatments for Cushing’s syndrome,2 and the other comparing endoscopic versus microscopic transsphenoidal surgery for Cushing’s disease.3

Assessing Medical Management of Cushing’s Syndrome

The meta-analysis examining medical care of individuals with Cushing’s syndrome encompassed 1520 total patients across 35 studies, most of whom had Cushing’s disease.2 However, only 2 of the 35 studies were randomized trials, highlighting the lack of and clear need for controlled clinical trials on medical therapies for Cushing’s syndrome.

Surgery is typically first-line treatment—whether transsphenoidal pituitary adenomectomy for Cushing’s disease,4 removal of the ACTH-producing tumor in ectopic Cushing’s syndrome or adrenalectomy in ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome.5

However, many patients require medical therapy owing to contraindications for surgery, for recurrent disease, or to control cortisol secretion prior to surgery or radiotherapy. Results of the meta-analysis reflected wide-ranging normalization of cortisol levels depending upon the agent used– from 35.7% for cabergoline to nearly 82% for mitotane in Cushing’s disease.2 Combination therapy (medications used either together or sequentially) was shown to increase effectiveness in normalizing cortisol levels.2

In an interview with EndocrineWeb, Eliza B. Geer, MD, medical director of the Multidisciplinary Pituitary and Skull Base Tumor Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, noted that most medical therapies for Cushing’s syndrome are used off-label (in the US), and thus may lack clinical trial efficacy and safety data; consequently, this review provides useful information for treatment selection. However, Dr. Geer said there was substantial diversity of treatments reviewed in this paper – including tumor-directed therapies, cortisol synthesis inhibitors, an adrenolytic therapy, and a receptor blocker, used alone or in combination.

Further, treatments used in the studies addressed a range of Cushing’s etiologies and reflected heterogeneous study designs (for example follow-up ranged from 2 weeks to 11.5 years).2  As such, she said, “findings provided by this review should be viewed in the context of a broader clinical understanding of Cushing’s treatment.”

Specifically, Dr. Geer said, “Dr. Broersen’s analysis found that efficacy of medical therapy was improved by prior radiotherapy. But we know that radiotherapy is recommended on an individualized basis in only a fraction of Cushing’s patients, depending on tumor behavior and treatment history. Also, the fact that mitotane was shown here to have the highest efficacy of all therapies does not make this the appropriate treatment for all, or even most, Cushing’s patients; mitotane is adrenolytic and has a high rate of significant adverse effects.”

Too Many Questions Persist, Necessitating Focus on Attaining Management Paradigm

Dr. Geer also highlighted the need for answers to basic questions when investigating Cushing’s treatments: How do we define ‘successful’ treatment? What goals of care can patients expect? Which cortisol measurements and cut-offs can be used? How do we define clinical remission—resolution of which symptoms and comorbidities? She said Cushing’s syndrome is one of the most challenging endocrine diseases to treat because of the lack of an accepted, universal treatment or management paradigm.

Treatment is often multimodal and always multidisciplinary, with patient-specific decision trees that must consider many factors, including goals of care, treatment history, disease etiology and severity, tumor behavior, and individual responses to medical therapies, she told EndocrineWeb.

She concluded, “While Broersen et al’s study provides a useful review of available medical therapies, it reinforces something we already know about the treatment of Cushing’s: Expertise is required.”

Pituitary surgery is first-line treatment for Cushing’s disease. Currently, there are two main techniques for transsphenoidal pituitary surgery: microscopic and endoscopic. The operating microscope provides three-dimensional vision and may be advantageous in identifying small tumors; the broader field of vision afforded by the endoscope may be advantageous for complete resection of large tumors.3  Generally, despite an absence of studies directly comparing relative remission and complication rates between microscopic versus endoscopic approaches, most surgical centers choose to use one or the other; few have both.3

Examining the Surgical Options to Manage Cushing’s Disease

The second systematic review is the first to compare remission and recurrence rates, and mortality after microscopic versus endoscopic transsphenoidal pituitary surgery for Cushing’s disease.3 The review included 97 studies of 6695 patients: 5711 individuals having the microscopic procedure and 984 undergoing endoscopic surgery.

Results of the meta-analysis found no clear difference between the two techniques in overall remission (80%) or recurrence (10%).3 Short-term mortality for both techniques was < 0.5%. However, endoscopic surgery was associated with a greater occurrence of cerebrospinal fluid leak (12.9 vs 4.0%) but a lesser occurrence of transient diabetes insipidus (11.3 vs 21.7%).3

The authors reported a higher percentage of patients in remission (76.3 vs. 59.9%) and lower percentage recurrence rates (1.5 vs 17.0%) among patients undergoing endoscopic surgery for macroadenomas.3

When interviewed regarding the second meta-analysis,3 Dr. Geer said that the potential benefit of endoscopy over microscopy has been questioned for ACTH-secreting tumors specifically since most are microadenomas.

“With the caveat that few studies (four of the 97 reviewed) compared techniques directly, Broersen et al3 found that endoscopic surgery was associated with higher remission rates compared to microscopic surgery for large tumors, but the two techniques were comparable for small tumors,” said Dr. Geer, however, “one limitation of these data is the lack of standardized criteria to define diagnosis and remission of Cushing’s among the studies reviewed.”

Need for Consistency in Clinical Trials and Surgical Expertise

The study investigators concluded, “endoscopic surgery for patients with Cushing’s disease reaches comparable results for microadenomas, and probably better results for macroadenomas than microscopic surgery,” despite the greater learning curve associated with endoscopic surgery.3 As such, based on their findings, the authors concluded that “endoscopic surgery may thus be considered the current standard of care. Microscopic surgery can be used based on neurosurgeon’s preference.” They did not respond to EndocrineWeb for a request for comment.

As more neurosurgeons receiving training with the endoscope, the preferred technique for pituitary surgery is changing. Dr. Geer said, “Broersen’s review provides reassurance that the newer endoscopic technique is at least equal to the microscope for microadenomas and may be preferred for macroadenomas.”

“However, [conclusions based on the systematic review] do not change our role as endocrinologists treating Cushing’s disease, which is to refer, when indicated, to the available neurosurgeon with the most favorable outcomes and lowest rate of complications, both of which depend directly on level of experience with the procedure and the instrument being used, whether endoscope or microscope,” she said.

The authors had no financial conflicts to declare.

From https://www.endocrineweb.com/professional/cushings/cushings-syndrome-eludes-treatment-paradigm-standard-approach-care

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