Interview with Doc Karen, Pituitary Patient and Cushing’s Advocate

Karen’s Story

Life was good! In fact, life was great! I was married to the love of my life. We had a beautiful little girl. My husband and I had both earned our graduate degrees. I earned my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and was growing my clinical practice. I loved my work!

In October, 2006, my life was turned upside down when I gained 30 pounds in 30 days! I knew this was not normal at all. I sought answers but my doctor kept insisting that I wasn’t eating the right foods, that I wasn’t exercising hard enough, and finally that it was genetic. However, I was always a thin person, I ate pretty healthy foods, and I was pretty active. Red flags became even greater when my physician put me on prescription weight loss drugs and I STILL gained another 30 pounds. I knew my body and I knew something was wrong but I had no one to validate what was going on.

In January, 2010, to my surprise, I learned that I was miraculously pregnant with our second daughter. I was so sick during that pregnancy and,  again, my doctors couldn’t figure out why. My OBGYN was very supportive, yet so concerned. Her solution was to put me on bed rest. I became so ill that she told me that “my only job was to sit still and wait to have a baby”. I did give birth to a healthy baby girl four weeks early. Little did I know, then, how much of a miracle she was.

During the latter part of my pregnancy, while flipping through channels on television, I came across a Cushing’s episode on the health TV show, “Mystery Diagnosis”.

I knew right away that this diagnosis fit everything I had been experiencing: years of weird and unexplained symptoms, gaining 150 pounds for no reason, an onset of diabetes, high blood pressure, and an overall sense of doom.

You see, my friends and family witnessed me go from a vibrant young Clinical Psychologist in practice, to someone whose health deteriorated due to the symptoms of Cushing’s, as I tried for many years to get answers from professionals. As I continued to eat a healthy, 1000 calorie per day diet, engage in exercise with multiple personal trainers, and follow through with referrals to consult with dietitians; I continued to gain weight at a rate of 5 pounds per week and experience rapidly declining health. Finally, after watching that Cushing’s episode of Mystery Diagnosis, I found my answer! Ultimately, I sought the expertise of and treatment from a team of experts at the Seattle Pituitary Center in Seattle, WA. I had brain surgery in Seattle on November 16th, 2011. I want to tell you how I found the people who helped save my life…

On June 9, 2011, I went to my first MAGIC conference. I had never heard of them but someone on one of the online support groups told me about it.  At that time, I was working but was very, very sick. We suspected at that time that I had been sick for years! My local endocrinologist was far from a Cushing’s expert. After watching the Cushing’s episode of Mystery Diagnosis, I told the same endocrinologist who had misdiagnosed me for years that I had found my answer. He swore that there was “literally no possible way that I had Cushing’s Disease!” He stated that my “hump wasn’t big enough”, “my stretch marks were not purple enough” and that “Cushing’s patients do not have children!” I told him that I was NOT leaving his office until he started testing me. He finally caved in. To his surprise, I was getting abnormal labs back.

At that time, there was evidence of a pit tumor but it wasn’t showing up on an MRI. So, I had my IPSS scheduled. An IPSS stands for Inferior Petrosal Sinus Sampling. It is done because 60 % of Cushing’s based pituitary tumors are so small that they do not show up on an MRI. Non Cushing’s experts do not know this so they often blow patients off, even after the labs show a high level of ACTH in the brain through blood work. An overproduction of the hormone ACTH from the pituitary communicates to the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol. Well, the IPSS procedure is where they put catheters up through your groin through your body up into your head to draw samples to basically see which side of your pituitary the extra hormone is coming from, thus indicating where the tumor is. U of C is the only place in IL that does it.

So, back to the MAGIC convention; my husband and I went to this conference looking for answers. We were so confused and scared!  Everyone, and I mean everyone, welcomed us with opened arms like we were family! There were brilliant presenters there, including an endocrinologist named Dr. William Ludlam. At that time, he was the director at the Seattle Pituitary Center in Seattle, WA. He is a true Cushing’s expert. Since then, he left in January, 2012 to have a significant impact toward the contribution of research of those impacted by Cushing’s Syndrome. His position was taken over by another brilliant endocrinologist, Dr. Frances Broyles.

I was scheduled to get an IPSS at U of C on June 28th, 2011 to locate the tumor. Two days after the IPSS, I began having spontaneous blackouts and ended up in the hospital for 6 days. The docs out here had no clue what was happening and I was having between 4-7 blackouts a day! My life was in danger and they were not helping me! We don’t know why, but the IPSS triggered something! But, no one wanted to be accountable so they told me the passing out, which I was not doing before, was all in my head being triggered by psychological issues. They did run many tests. But, they were all the wrong tests. I say all the time; it’s like going into Subway and ordering a turkey sandwich and giving them money and getting a tuna sandwich. You would be mad! What if they told you, “We gave you a sandwich!” Even if they were to give you a dozen sandwiches; if it wasn’t turkey, it wouldn’t be the right one. This is how I feel about these tests that they ran and said were all “normal”. The doctors kept telling us that they ran all of these tests so they could cover themselves. Yet, they were not looking at the right things, even though, I (the patient) kept telling them that this was an endocrine issue and had something to do with my tumor! Well, guess how good God is?!!!!

You see, Dr. Ludlam had given me his business card at the conference, which took place two weeks prior to the IPSS. I put it away for a while. But, something kept telling me to pull the card out and contact him. I am crying just thinking about it, Lord!

So, prior to my IPSS, I wrote Dr. Ludlam an e mail asking him some questions. At that time, he told me to send him ALL of my records including labs. I sent him 80 pages of records that day.  He called me back stating that he concurred with all of the evidence that I definitely have Cushing’s Disease from a pituitary source. He asked me what I planned to do and I told him that I was having the IPSS procedure done in a few days at the University of Chicago. He told me once I got my results to contact him.

Fast forward, I ended up in the hospital with these blackouts after my IPSS. The doctors, including MY local endocrinologist told me there was no medical evidence for my blackouts. In fact, he told the entire treatment team that he even doubted if I even had a tumor! However, this is the same man who referred me for the IPSS in the first place! I was literally dying and no one was helping me! We reached out to Dr. Ludlam in Seattle and told him of the situation. He told me he knew exactly what was going on. For some reason, there was a change in my brain tumor activity that happened after my IPSS. No one, to this day, has been able to answer the question as to whether the IPSS caused the change in tumor activity. The tumor, for some reason, began shutting itself on and off. When it would shut off, my cortisol would drop and would put me in a state of adrenal insufficiency, causing these blackouts!

Dr. Ludlam said as soon as we were discharged, we needed to fly out to Seattle so that he could help me! The hospital discharged me in worse condition then when I came in. I had a blackout an hour after discharge! But get this…The DAY the hospital sent me home saying that I did not have a pit tumor, my IPSS results were waiting for me! EVIDENCE OF TUMOR ON THE LEFT SIDE OF MY PITUITARY GLAND!!!

Two days later, Craig and I were on a plane to Seattle. I had never in my life been to Seattle, nor did I ever think I would go. We saw the man that God used to save my life, Dr. William Ludlam, the same man who we had met at the MAGIC conference for the first time one month prior! He put me on a combo of medications that would pull me out of crisis. Within one month, my blackouts had almost completely stopped! Unfortunately, we knew this was a temporary fix! He was treating me to carry me over to surgery. You see, his neurosurgeon, Dr. Marc Mayberg was just as amazing. He is one of the top neurosurgeons in the US! Statistically, he has one of the highest success rates!

The problem was that our insurance refused to pay for surgery with an expert outside of IL, stating that I could have surgery anywhere in IL! Most people don’t know that pituitary surgeries are very complicated and need the expertise of a “high volume center” which is where they do at least 50 of these surgeries per year. Dr. Mayberg has performed over 5,000 of these surgeries!  By this time, we had learned that we need to fight for the best care! It was what would give me the best chance at life! We thought I would have to wait until January when our insurance would change, to see if I could get the surgery I so desperately needed! I was holding on by a thread!

We began appealing our insurance. At the time the MAGIC foundation had an insurance specialist who was allowed to help us fight our insurance. Her name is Melissa Callahan and she took it upon herself to fight for us as our patient advocate. It was a long and hard battle! But…we finally WON!!!! On November 16th, 2011, Dr. Marc Mayberg found that hidden tumor on the left side of my pituitary gland! He removed the tumor along with 50% of my pituitary gland.

Recovery was a difficult process. They say that it takes about one full year to recover after pituitary surgery for Cushing’s. I was grateful to be in remission, nonetheless. However, about one year after my brain surgery, the Cushing’s symptoms returned. After seven more months of testing that confirmed a recurrence of the Cushing’s, I was cleared for a more aggressive surgery. This time, I had both of my adrenal glands removed as a last resort. By then, we had learned that I had hyperplasia, which is an explosion of tumor cells in my pituitary. It only takes one active cell to cause Cushing’s. Therefore, I could have potentially had several more brain surgeries and the disease would have kept coming back over and over.

As a last resort, my adrenal glands were removed so that no matter how much these cells try to cause my adrenals to produce excessive amounts of cortisol; the glands are not there to receive the message. As a result, I am Adrenally Insufficient for life, which means that my body cannot produce the life sustaining hormone, cortisol, at all. I had my Bilateral Adrenalectomy by world renowned BLA surgeon, Dr. Manfred Chiang, in Wisconsin on August 21st, 2013. I traded Cushing’s Disease for Addison’s Disease, one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in my life. However, I knew that I would die with Cushing’s. Recovery from my last surgery was difficult and involved weaning down to a maintenance dose of steroid to replace my cortisol. Now, on a maintenance dose; I still have to take extra cortisol during times of physical or emotional stress to prevent my body from going into shock.

I promised a long time ago that I would pay it forward…give back because so much has been given to me. This is why I have committed my life to supporting the Cushing’s community. I post videos on YouTube as a way of increasing awareness. My channel can be found at http://www.YouTube.com/drnkarenthames

Additionally, I am working on a Cushing’s documentary. Please like us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Hug.A.Cushie

Thank you for taking the time to read my story!

Karen has made 2 videos about her experiences with Cushing’s:

and

Doc Karen will be our guest in an interview on BlogTalk Radio  Friday December 2 at 11:00 AM eastern.  The Call-In number for questions or comments is (323) 642-1665 .

The archived interview will be available through iTunes Podcasts (Cushie Chats) or BlogTalkRadio.  While you’re waiting, there are currently 90 other past interviews to listen to!

Rare neuroendocrine tumours may be misdiagnosed as Cushing’s disease

By Eleanor McDermid, Senior medwireNews Reporter

Ectopic tumours secreting corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) are very rare in children and can result in a misdiagnosis of Cushing’s disease (CD), say researchers.

Three of the patients in the reported case series had pituitary hyperplasia and underwent transsphenoidal surgery for apparent CD before the tumour that was actually causing their symptoms was located. The hyperplasia was probably caused by release of CRH from the ectopic tumour, which stimulated the pituitary gland, giving the impression of an ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma, explain Maya Lodish (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA) and study co-authors.

These three patients were part of a series of seven, which Lodish et al describe as “a relatively large number of patients, considering the infrequency of this disease.”

The patients were aged between 1.8 and 21.3 years. Three had neuroendocrine tumours located in the pancreas ranging in size from 1.4 to 7.0 cm, two had thymic carcinoids ranging from 6.0 mm to 11.5 cm, one patient had a 12.0 cm tumour in the liver and one had a 1.3 cm bronchogenic carcinoid tumour of the right pulmonary lobe.

Four of the patients had metastatic disease and, during up to 57 months of follow-up, three died of metastatic disease or associated complications and two patients had recurrent disease.

“Our series demonstrates that these are aggressive tumors with a high mortality rate,” write the researchers in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. “It is important to follow the appropriate work up, regarding both biochemical and imaging tests, which can lead to the correct diagnosis and to the most beneficial therapeutic approach.”

The team found the CRH stimulation test to be helpful, noting, for example, that none of the patients had a rise in cortisol that was consistent with CD, with all patients showing smaller responses ranging from 2% to 15%. Likewise, just one patient had an ACTH rise higher than 35% on CRH administration, and four patients had a “flat” response, which has previously been associated with ectopic neuroendocrine tumours.

Of note, six patients had normal or high plasma CRH levels, despite all having high cortisol levels, which would be expected to result in undetectable plasma CRH due to negative feedback, implying another source of CRH production. Five patients had blunted diurnal variation of both cortisol and ACTH levels consistent with Cushing’s syndrome.

The patients also underwent a variety of imaging procedures to identify the source of ACTH/CRH production, some of which, such as octreotide scans, are specialist and not available in most hospitals, the researchers note, potentially contributing to inappropriate diagnosis and management.

From http://www.news-medical.net/news/20141030/Rare-neuroendocrine-tumours-may-be-misdiagnosed-as-Cushinge28099s-disease.aspx

Genetic variations associated with hyperplasias, adenomas of adrenal cortex

Beuschlein F. N Engl J Med. 2014;doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1310359.

Genetic variations of the catalytic subunit of cyclic protein kinase A, or PKA, were linked to the development of bilateral adrenal hyperplasias and unilateral cortisol-producing adrenal adenomas. These effects may activate corticotropin-independent Cushing’s syndrome, according to data published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“The current study suggests that more than one-third of cortisol-producing adenomas associated with overt Cushing’s syndrome have unique somatic mutations in PRKACA (which encodes the main catalytic subunit of PKA), resulting in constitutive PKA activation,” Felix Beuschlein, MD, of the University of Munich, and colleagues wrote.

The researchers performed an exome sequencing of tumor-tissue specimens from 10 patients with cortisol-producing adrenal adenomas and evaluated their recurrent mutations in candidate genes in 171 additional patients with adrenocortical tumors, according to data.

Somatic mutations in PRKACA were discovered in eight of 10 adenomas. These somatic mutations also were identified in 22 of 59 unilateral adenomas (37%) from patients with overt Cushing’s syndrome; mutations were not detectable in 40 patients with subclinical hypercortisolism or in 82 patients with other adrenal tumors, according to data.

Five of the 35 patients with cortisol-producing hyperplasias appeared to be carriers of the germline duplication of the genomic region on chromosome 19 that includes PRKACA, researchers wrote.

In vitro study data indicated that PKA catalytic subunit genetic mutations impaired inhibition by the PKA regulatory subunit, and cells from patients with germline chromosomal gains appeared to increase the protein levels of the subunit.

“Because PRKACA mediates most of the effects of inactivating PRKAR1A mutations and because mutations of PRKAR1 are associated with a variety of tumors in humans and mice, we would speculate that somatic PRKACA defects might also play a role in other forms of endocrine and nonendocrine tumors,” researchers wrote.

Disclosure: Beuschlein reports financial ties with the European Community, HRA Pharma, Novartis, Viropharma, and Wilhelm-Sander Stiftung.

From http://www.healio.com/endocrinology/adrenal/news/online/%7B22954d9a-0fc9-4e80-b80a-d74bbdfea1a9%7D/genetic-variations-associated-with-hyperplasias-adenomas-of-adrenal-cortex

ARMC5 Mutations in Macronodular Adrenal Hyperplasia with Cushing’s Syndrome

adrenal-hyperplasia

 

Guillaume Assié, M.D., Ph.D., Rossella Libé, M.D., Stéphanie Espiard, M.D., Marthe Rizk-Rabin, Ph.D., Anne Guimier, M.D., Windy Luscap, M.Sc., Olivia Barreau, M.D., Lucile Lefèvre, M.Sc., Mathilde Sibony, M.D., Laurence Guignat, M.D., Stéphanie Rodriguez, M.Sc., Karine Perlemoine, B.S., Fernande René-Corail, B.S., Franck Letourneur, Ph.D., Bilal Trabulsi, M.D., Alix Poussier, M.D., Nathalie Chabbert-Buffet, M.D., Ph.D., Françoise Borson-Chazot, M.D., Ph.D., Lionel Groussin, M.D., Ph.D., Xavier Bertagna, M.D., Constantine A. Stratakis, M.D., Ph.D., Bruno Ragazzon, Ph.D., and Jérôme Bertherat, M.D., Ph.D.

N Engl J Med 2013; 369:2105-2114 November 28, 2013 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1304603

BACKGROUND

Corticotropin-independent macronodular adrenal hyperplasia may be an incidental finding or it may be identified during evaluation for Cushing’s syndrome. Reports of familial cases and the involvement of both adrenal glands suggest a genetic origin of this condition.

METHODS

We genotyped blood and tumor DNA obtained from 33 patients with corticotropin-independent macronodular adrenal hyperplasia (12 men and 21 women who were 30 to 73 years of age), using single-nucleotide polymorphism arrays, microsatellite markers, and whole-genome and Sanger sequencing. The effects of armadillo repeat containing 5 (ARMC5) inactivation and overexpression were tested in cell-culture models.

RESULTS

The most frequent somatic chromosome alteration was loss of heterozygosity at 16p (in 8 of 33 patients for whom data were available [24%]). The most frequent mutation identified by means of whole-genome sequencing was in ARMC5, located at 16p11.2. ARMC5 mutations were detected in tumors obtained from 18 of 33 patients (55%). In all cases, both alleles of ARMC5 carried mutations: one germline and the other somatic. In 4 patients with a germline ARMC5 mutation, different nodules from the affected adrenals harbored different secondary ARMC5 alterations. Transcriptome-based classification of corticotropin-independent macronodular adrenal hyperplasia indicated that ARMC5 mutations influenced gene expression, since all cases with mutations clustered together. ARMC5 inactivation decreased steroidogenesis in vitro, and its overexpression altered cell survival.

CONCLUSIONS

Some cases of corticotropin-independent macronodular adrenal hyperplasia appear to be genetic, most often with inactivating mutations of ARMC5, a putative tumor-suppressor gene. Genetic testing for this condition, which often has a long and insidious prediagnostic course, might result in earlier identification and better management. (Funded by Agence Nationale de la Recherche and others.)

Supported in part by grants from Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-10-Blan-1136), Corticomedullosurrénale Tumeur Endocrine Network (Programme Hospitalier de Recherche Clinique grant AOM95201), Assistance Publique–Hôpitaux de Paris (Clinical Research Center Grant Genhyper P061006), Institut National du Cancer (Recherche Translationelle 2009-RT-02), the Seventh Framework Program of the European Commission (F2-2010-259735), INSERM (Contrat d’Interface, to Dr. Assié), the Conny-Maeva Charitable Foundation, and the intramural program of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Disclosure forms provided by the authors are available with the full text of this article at NEJM.org.

Drs. Assié, Libé, Espiard, Rizk-Rabin, Ragazzon, and Bertherat contributed equally to this article.

We thank Drs. J. Chelly and M. Delpech of the cell bank of Cochin Hospital and Dr. B. Terris of the tumor bank of Cochin Hospital for their help in sample collection; Dr. E. Clauser of the oncogenetic unit of Cochin Hospital for help in microsatellite analysis; Drs. J. Guibourdenche and E. Clauser of the hormone biology unit of Cochin Hospital for cortisol assays; Drs. F. Tissier and Pierre Colin for pathological analysis; Anne Audebourg for technical assistance; J. Metral and A. de Reynies of the Cartes d’Identité des Tumeurs program of Ligue Nationale contre le Cancer for help in genomics studies and fruitful discussions; Dr. P. Nietschke of the bioinformatics platforms of Paris Descartes University for helpful discussions; all the members of the Genomics and Signaling of Endocrine Tumors team and of the genomic platform of Cochin Institute for their help in these studies; and the patients and their families, as well as the physicians and staff involved in patient care, for their active participation.

SOURCE INFORMATION

From INSERM Unité 1016, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Unité Mixte de Recherche 8104, Institut Cochin (G.A., R.L., S.E., M.R.-R., A.G., W.L., O.B., L.L., S.R., K.P., F.R.-C., F.L., L. Groussin, X.B., B.R., J.B.), Faculté de Médecine Paris Descartes, Université Paris Descartes, Sorbonne Paris Cité (G.A., S.E., A.G., O.B., L.L., M.S., K.P., F.R.-C., L. Groussin, X.B., J.B.), Department of Endocrinology, Referral Center for Rare Adrenal Diseases (G.A., R.L., O.B., L. Guignat, L. Groussin, X.B., J.B.), and Department of Pathology (M.S.), Assistance Publique–Hôpitaux de Paris, Hôpital Cochin, and Unit of Endocrinology, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Hôpital Tenon (N.C.-B.) — all in Paris; Unit of Endocrinology, Centre Hospitalier du Centre Bretagne, Site de Kério, Noyal-Pontivy (B.T.), Unit of Endocrinology, Hôtel Dieu du Creusot, Le Creusot (A.P.), and Department of Endocrinology Lyon-Est, Groupement Hospitalier Est, Bron (F.B.-C.) — all in France; and the Section on Endocrinology and Genetics, Program on Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics and the Pediatric Endocrinology Inter-Institute Training Program, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD (C.A.S.).

Address reprint requests to Dr. Bertherat at Service des Maladies Endocriniennes et Métaboliques, Centre de Référence des Maladies Rares de la Surrénale, Hôpital Cochin, 27 rue du Faubourg St. Jacques, 75014 Paris, France, or at jerome.bertherat@cch.aphp.fr.

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