Cushing’s Patients at Risk of Life-threatening Pulmonary Fungal Infection

Cushing’s disease patients who exhibit nodules or masses in their lungs should be thoroughly investigated to exclude fungal infection with Cryptococcus neoformans, a study from China suggests.

While rare, the infection can be life-threatening, showing a particularly worse prognosis in patients with fluid infiltration in their lungs or with low white blood cell counts in their blood.

The study, “Cushing’s disease with pulmonary Cryptococcus neoformans infection in a single center in Beijing, China: A retrospective study and literature review,” was published in the Journal of the Formosan Medical Association.

Cortisol, a hormone that is produced in excess in Cushing’s disease patients, is a kind of glucocorticoid that suppresses inflammation and immunity. Consequently, subjects exposed to cortisol for long periods, much like immuno-compromised patients, are at high risk for infections.

In Cushing’s patients, the most common infections include Pneumocystis jiroveciAspergillus fumigatus, and Cryptococcosis — 95 percent of which are caused by C. neoformans.

But while “Cushing’s disease patients are susceptible to C. neoformans, the association between pulmonary C.neoformans and [Cushing’s disease] is poorly explored,” researchers said.

In an attempt to understand the clinical characteristics of Cushing’s patients who develop C.neoformans infections, researchers in Beijing, China, reviewed the clinical records of six patients at their clinical center.

Their analysis also included six other patients whose cases had been reported in previous publications.

Patients had a mean age of 44 and 10 were diagnosed initially with high blood pressure. Seven also had diabetes mellitus.

All patients had elevated cortisol levels in their urine and high levels of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Ultimately, all patients were found to have masses in their pituitary glands, causing the high cortisol and ACTH levels.

Patients complained of lung symptoms, including shortness of breath after physical activity, cough, and expectoration. But they had no fever or signs of blood in the lungs, which could suggest lung infection.

A CT scan of the chest then revealed lung nodules in four patients, and lung masses in five patients. Four patients, including one with a lung mass, also had lung air spaces filled with some material (pulmonary consolidation), which was consistent with pulmonary infection.

After analyzing lung nodule/mass biopsies, lung fluids, or blood samples, all patients were diagnosed with C. neoformans pulmonary cryptococcosis.

For their infection, patients received anti-fungal drugs, including amphotericin-B, fluconazole, flucytosine, and liposomal amphotericin. Cushing’s disease, however, was treated with surgery in 10 patients and ketoconazole in two patients.

Despite the treatments, five patients died during follow-up, including four who experienced co-infections or spreading of the cryptococcal infection and one patient with extensive bleeding after surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Among them, two patients had significantly low white blood cell levels and elevated cortisol levels, and four had infiltration in their lungs, suggesting these are markers of poor prognoses.

Researchers also noted that the patients who received ketoconazole died during in the reviewed studies. They attribute this to ketoconazole’s anti-fungal properties, which may interfere with its ability to manage Cushing’s symptoms.

Given the high susceptibility of Cushing’s disease patients to C. neoformans infections, “pulmonary nodules or masses should be aggressively investigated to exclude” this potentially fatal opportunistic infection, the researchers suggested.

“The infiltration lesions in chest CT scan and lymphopenia seem to be potential to reflect the poor prognosis,” they said.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/06/15/pulmonary-fungal-infection-threatens-cushings-disease-patients-study/

Late-night Salivary Cortisol a Poor Approach for Detecting Cushing’s in Obese Patients

Assessment of late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC) levels is a poor diagnostic tool for detecting Cushing’s disease in obese patients, a new study from Germany shows.

The test demonstrated a particularly poor sensitivity in obese people, meaning it will often suggest a patient has Cushing’s disease when that is not the case — called a false-positive.

The study, “Specificity of late‑night salivary cortisol measured by automated electrochemiluminescence immunoassay for Cushing’s disease in an obese population,” appeared in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation.

Although excessive weight gain is a common symptom of Cushing’s disease, existing indications advise clinicians to test for Cushing’s in obese people only if the disease is clinically suspected.

The utility of measuring LNSC for Cushing’s disease screening is well established. However, differences in assays, sample collection methods, and controls have led to a great variability in the proposed reference ranges and cut-off values. Also, according to the Endocrine Society, the influence of gender, age, and co-existing medical conditions on LNSC concentrations is still unclear.

Regarding obesity, data on the specificity of assessing late-night salivary cortisol levels is contradictory, as some studies found no differences while others reported lower specificity compared to healthy individuals.

An additional factor complicating LNSC measures in obese people is the prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), which may also lead to elevated cortisol levels.

Research showed a high rate of false-positive LNSC measurements in obese patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. Also, in patients with recently diagnosed diabetes, investigators found that LNSC had very low specificity — the proportion of patients with Cushing’s who test positive — and a poor predictive value.

Recent reports showed a high diagnostic accuracy using automated electrochemiluminescent assays (ECLIA) in patients with Cushing’s disease. These methods use special labels conjugated to antibodies that produce light when they bind to a specific target.

The research team used an ECLIA assay to test the specificity of LNSC in obese patients both with and without diabetes. The investigators also intended to establish a reference range and cut-off value for this diagnostic approach.

Adults who requested weight loss treatment were included in the study, including 34 patients with a confirmed diagnosis of Cushing’s and 83 obese people, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of at least 35 kg/m2. Forty healthy individuals were also analyzed.

Eight out of the 34 Cushing’s patients had a BMI within the obese range, which correlates with an overlap in patients awaiting bariatric surgery for weight loss, the investigators observed.

All subjects underwent LNSC assessment at 11 p.m. Results revealed significant differences in mean LNSC values — 19.9 nmol/L in Cushing’s disease patients, 10.9 nmol/L in obese subjects, and 4.7 nmol/L in those of normal weight.

Compared to healthy and obese participants, measuring LNSC in Cushing’s disease patients had a maximum sensitivity of 67.6% and a specificity of 85.4%. This was lower than prior data from obese patients with two features of Cushing’s disease.

The cut-off value for detecting Cushing’s was 12.3 nmol/L, which is in line with other studies “and underlines the importance of an evaluation with an obese cohort vs. [Cushing’s disease],” the investigators wrote.

Results did not show an association between BMI, type 2 diabetes, and LNSC for all groups.

“In our obese cohort, we found that LNSC assayed by ECLIA had a low specificity in the diagnosis of [Cushing’s disease],” the researchers wrote. “However, the clear advantage of LNSC over other tests is the simple and stress-free sampling method.”

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/03/29/nighttime-salivary-cortisol-poor-approach-detect-cushings-disease-obese-patients/

Patient’s Atypical Cushing’s Symptoms Lead to Discovery of Novel Genetic Mutations

New genetic mutations were found in a patient who exhibited atypical symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome, notably an abnormal protrusion of the eye, a case report shows.

The research, “Extensive ARMC5 genetic variance in primary bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia that started with exophthalmos: a case report,” was published in the Journal of Medical Case Reports.

Primary bilateral macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (PBMAH) is a disorder characterized by multiple lumps in the adrenal glands and excessive cortisol production. It is a rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome.

According to recent research, PBMAH is caused by mutations in the ARMC5 gene, which data suggest may act as a tumor suppressor.

Researchers presented the case of a 52-year-old Chinese woman who exhibited a protrusion of both eyes (exophtalmos), which was first thought to be Graves’ ophthalmopathy. An injection of triamcinolone acetonide, a corticosteroid, into the area behind the eye globe did not improve symptoms.

The patient later was diagnosed with diabetes, which was treated with insulin, and hypertension, treated with insulin and amlodipine. She also developed muscle weakness and bruised easily. She had no other relevant chronic illness or infectious disease, and did not smoke tobacco or drink alcohol.

Physical examination showed skin atrophy, moon face, buffalo hump (between the shoulders), and purplish abdominal striae (stretch marks), which researchers defined as a typical Cushingoid appearance. The patient also experienced elevated pressure inside the eye, and had edema, conjunctival congestion, and lid retraction. No liver, spleen, respiration, cardiac, abdominal, blood counts, urinary, sensory, or motor abnormalities were noted.

Biochemical evaluation showed elevated cortisol and reduced adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) levels. Administering  dexamethasone did not lower the level of cortisol. Abnormal responses of the hormone vasopressin also were detected.

A computed tomography (CT) scan of the adrenal glands showed bilateral multiple lobular masses, and an MRI of the eye orbits indicated bilateral exophthalmos with hypertrophy of the retro-orbital fat, which lines the orbit.

After PBMAH was diagnosed, the patient’s adrenal glands were removed. Pathological findings showed multiple, homogenous, golden-yellow-colored nodules on the glands.

The surgery successfully lowered the level of cortisol and increased that of ACTH. The patient began taking hydrocortisone and metformin for diabetes. After six months, her exophtlamos, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure had improved.

Genetic analysis revealed six specific ARMC5 mutations in five of the seven adrenal nodules analyzed. “All the mutations are novel and not found in available online databases,” the researchers wrote. The mutations may lead to resistance to cell death in the tumor cells, and cause an increase in the production of cortisol, they observed.

As a result of the ARMC5 mutations, gene expression (conversion of genetic information) of the messenger RNA (mRNA, which is converted from DNA in the first step of protein synthesis) was lower in the adrenal tumor samples, in comparison with normal adrenal cortex.

Overall, the study “highlights the importance of early recognition of atypical symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome such as exophthalmos, which would save the patient from harmful effects of excessive cortisol exposure,” the researchers said. Screening for ARMC5 mutations also would help improve diagnosis and genetic counseling, they said.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/02/13/odd-cushings-symptoms-linked-genetic-mutations-case-report/

Long-acting Signifor Has Similar Safety Profiles as Twice-daily Treatment in Cushing’s Patients, Trial Showed

A long-acting, once-a-month treatment of Signifor (pasireotide) normalized cortisol levels in 40% of patients with Cushing’s disease whose disease had recurred after surgery, or who were not candidates for surgery, according to new data from a Phase 3 trial.

The safety profiles of the once-monthly regimen proved to be similar to standard twice-daily Signifor treatments, researchers found.

The study, “Efficacy and safety of once-monthly pasireotide in Cushing’s disease: a 12 month clinical trial,” was published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Novartis‘ Signifor in its twice-daily injection formulation has already been approved for treating Cushing’s in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The 12-month, Phase 3 trial (NCT01374906) was conducted at 57 sites in 19 countries. The study included 150 patients with Cushing’s whose cortisol levels had risen or not dropped at all after surgery, or who were unable to undergo surgery.

Between Dec. 28, 2011, and Dec. 9, 2014, participants were randomized to receive either 10 mg or 30 mg of Signifor every four weeks, via an injection to the muscle. If, after four months of therapy, cortisol urinary levels (mUFC) were 50% greater than the upper normal limit, the dose could be increased from 10 mg to 30 mg, or from 30 mg to 40 mg. It could also be increased after seven, nine, or 12 months if the mUFC concentration was greater than normal.

The goal was to normalize average concentrations of free cortisol in the urine to less than or equal to the upper normal limit at month seven. It was met by 31 of the 74 patients in the 10 mg group (41.9%) and 31 of the 76 patients in the 30 mg group (40.8%).

The most common adverse events were hyperglycemia (high concentration of blood sugar), diarrhea, cholelithiasis (gall stones), diabetes, and nausea.

The researchers consider this treatment to be a good option for patients whose disease has returned after surgery, or who cannot undergo surgery. The long-lasting treatment schedule of one injection per month is more convenient for patients than the twice-daily subcutaneous injection, making it more likely that they would not discontinue treatment.

“Surgical resection of the causative pituitary adenoma is the first-line treatment of choice for most patients with Cushing’s disease, which leads to remission in greater than 75% of patients if done by an expert pituitary surgeon,” wrote Dr. Andre Lacroix, MD, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Montreal teaching hospital, and colleagues.

“However, surgery is not always successful, and disease recurrence can occur several years after initial remission, while some patients refuse or are not candidates for surgery. As a result, many patients require additional treatment options.”

“Long-acting pasireotide normalized mUFC concentration in about 40% of patients with Cushing’s disease at month 7 and had a similar safety profile to that of twice-daily subcutaneous pasireotide,” the team wrote in the study.

“Long-acting pasireotide is an efficacious treatment option for some patients with Cushing’s disease who have persistent or recurrent disease after initial surgery or are not surgical candidates, and provides a convenient monthly administration schedule,” researchers concluded.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/10/31/long-acting-signifor-for-cushings-disease-has-similar-efficacy-and-safety-as-twice-daily-treatment/

Mild Cases of Cushing’s Syndrome Present Diagnostic Challenges

By Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC

 

In the early 20th century, the term “pluriglandular syndrome” was coined by Harvey Cushing to describe the disorder that results from chronic tissue exposure to excessive levels of glucocorticoids.1 Now called Cushing’s syndrome, the condition affects an estimated 10-15 million people annually, most often women and individuals between the ages of 20 and 50 years.2 Risk factors and common comorbidities include hypertension, obesity, osteoporosis, uncontrolled diabetes, depression, and anxiety.3

Presentation

The clinical presentation of the disorder is heterogenous and varies by sex, age, and disease severity. Common signs and symptoms include central adiposity, roundness of the face or extra fat around the neck, thin skin, impaired short-term memory and concentration, irritability, hirsutism in women, fatigue, and menstrual irregularity.4 Because each of these features may be observed in a wide range of other conditions, it may be difficult to diagnose cases that are not severe.

“It can be challenging to differentiate the milder forms from pseudo-Cushing’s states,” which are characterized by altered cortisol production and many of the same clinical features as Cushing’s syndrome, according to Roberto Salvatori, MD, the medical director of the Johns Hopkins Pituitary Center, Baltimore, Maryland. These may include alcoholism, obesity, eating disorders, and depression. “Because Cushing’s can cause depression, for example, it is sometimes difficult to determine which came first,” he says. In these states, however, hypercortisolism is believed to be driven by increased secretion of hypothalamic corticotropin-releasing hormone, which is suppressed in Cushing’s syndrome.5

Causes and Diagnosis

If Cushing’s syndrome is suspected on the basis of the patient’s physical appearance, the diagnostic workup should include a thorough medical history, physical exam, and 1 or more of the following tests to establish hypercortisolism: the 24-hour urinary cortisol test, the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test, or the late-night salivary cortisol test. “We sometimes use 2 or 3 of these tests since 1 may not accurately reflect cortisol production in a particular patient,” Dr Salvatori notes. The next step is to determine the source of the hypercortisolism, which may involve the high-dose dexamethasone suppression test, magnetic resonance imaging, or petrosal sinus sampling.2

Medication is the most common cause of Cushing’s syndrome. These iatrogenic or exogenous cases typically result from corticosteroids administered for conditions such as asthma, allergies, and autoimmune disorders.6 More rarely, the disorder can be caused by the use of medroxyprogesterone. In these cases, corticosteroids should be reduced or discontinued under medical care, if possible.

Endogenous Cushing’s syndrome results from the presence of benign or malignant tumors on the adrenal or pituitary glands or elsewhere in the body. These tumors can interfere with the adrenal glands’ production of cortisol that is usually prompted by the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) released by the pituitary gland.6 There are 3 different mechanisms by which the process can occur.

  • Pituitary adenomas, which account for approximately 70% of endogenous cases of Cushing’s syndrome, secrete ACTH and stimulate additional cortisol production. Because of the large proportion of cases this condition represents, it is specifically referred to as Cushing’s disease. It is more common in women than men (with a ratio of 3 to 4:1), although in pediatric patients, it occurs more frequently in boys vs girls.5
  • Adrenal tumors (adenomas, malignant tumors, or micronodular hyperplasia) produce cortisol in their own tissue in addition to the amount produced by the adrenal glands. These tumors, which cause approximately 15% of endogenous Cushing’s syndrome cases, are more common in children vs adults and in women vs men.
  • Benign or malignant tumors elsewhere in the body, most often the lungs, thyroid, thymus, and pancreas, secrete ACTH and trigger the excessive release of cortisol. An estimated 15% of endogenous cases are attributed to these types of tumors.

Treatment

Surgery is the first-line treatment for Cushing’s syndrome. “We first want to try to figure out the cause of the disorder,” Dr Salvatori says. “Ideally, treatment involves surgery to remove the tumor that is causing it.”

When surgery is unsuccessful, contraindicated, or delayed, other treatment options include radiation or medications that inhibit cortisol, modulate the release of ACTH, or inhibit steroidogenesis.5 Bilateral adrenalectomy may be indicated for patients who do not respond to medication or other surgery.

If surgical resection of the tumor is successful, then “all of the comorbidities reverse, but if it is unsuccessful or must be delayed, you would treat each comorbidity” with the appropriate medication; for example, antihypertensives for high blood pressure and antidiabetic medications for diabetes, Dr Salvatori advises. In severe cases, prophylactic antibiotics may be indicated for the prevention of severe infections such as pneumonia.

It is also important to inquire about and address psychiatric symptoms related to Cushing’s syndrome, even in patients who are in remission. It has been proposed that the chronic hypercortisolism and dysfunction of the HPA axis may “lead to structural and functional changes in the central nervous system, developing brain atrophy, particularly in the hippocampus, which may determine the high prevalence of psychiatric disorders, such as affective and anxiety disorders or cognitive dysfunctions,” according to a recently published paper on the topic.7 Patients should be screened with self-report questionnaires such as the Beck Depression Inventory and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, and management of psychiatric symptoms may include patient education, psychotropic medications, and referral to a mental health professional.

Future Directions

Several trials are currently planned or underway, including a phase 2 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of an oral medication called ATR-101 by Millendo Therapeutics, Inc. (ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT03053271). In addition to the need for novel medical therapies, refined imaging techniques could improve surgical success rates in patients with Cushing’s disease in particular, according to Dr Salvatori. “A significant portion of these patients have tumors too small to be detected by MRI, and the development of more sensitive MRI could improve detection and provide a surgical target” for neurosurgeons treating the patients, he says.

Summary

Milder cases of Cushing’s syndrome present diagnostic challenges are a result overlapping features with various other conditions. Diagnosis may require careful observation as well as biochemical and imaging tests.

References

  1. Loriaux DL. Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Cushing’s syndromeN Engl J Med. 2017;376:1451-1459. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1505550
  2. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Cushing’s syndrome/disease. http://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Cushings-Disease. Accessed August 1, 2017.
  3. León-Justel A, Madrazo-Atutxa A, Alvarez-Rios AI, et al. A probabilistic model for cushing’s syndrome screening in at-risk populations: a prospective multicenter studyJ Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016;101:3747-3754. doi:10.1210/jc.2016-1673
  4. The Pituitary Society. Cushing’s syndrome and disease–symptoms. https://pituitarysociety.org/patient-education/pituitary-disorders/cushings/symptoms-of-cushings-disease-and-cushings-syndrome. Accessed August 1, 2017.
  5. Sharma ST, Nieman LK, Feelders RA. Cushing’s syndrome: epidemiology and developments in disease managementClin Epidemiol. 2015;7:281-293. doi:10.2147/CLEP.S44336
  6. National Institutes of Health: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. What causes Cushing’s syndrome?https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/cushing/conditioninfo/pages/causes.aspx. Accessed August 1, 2017.
  7. Santos A, Resmini E, Pascual JC, Crespo I, Webb SM. Psychiatric symptoms in patients with Cushing’s syndrome: prevalence, diagnosis and management. Drugs. 2017;77:829-842. doi:10.1007/s40265-017-0735-z

From http://www.endocrinologyadvisor.com/adrenal/cushings-syndrome-diagnosis-treatment/article/682302/

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