Researchers Report Rare Case of Cushing’s Caused by Bilateral Adrenal Tumors

Cases of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-independent Cushing’s syndrome are often caused by unilateral tumors in the adrenal glands, but Indian researchers have now reported a rare case where the condition was caused by tumors in both adrenal glands.

Fewer than 40 cases of bilateral tumors have been reported so far, but an accurate diagnosis is critical for adequate and prompt treatment. Sampling the veins draining the adrenal glands may be a good way to diagnose the condition, researchers said.

The study, “Bilateral adrenocortical adenomas causing adrenocorticotropic hormone-independent Cushing’s syndrome: A case report and review of the literature,” was published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases.

Cushing’s syndrome, a condition characterized by excess cortisol in circulation, can be divided into two main forms, depending on ACTH status. Some patients have tumors that increase the amount of ACTH in the body, and this hormone will act on the adrenal glands to produce cortisol in excess. Others have tumors in the adrenal glands, which produce excess cortisol by themselves, without requiring ACTH activation. This is known as ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome.

Among the latter, the disease is mostly caused by unilateral tumors — in one adrenal gland only —  with cases of bilateral tumors being extremely rare in this population.

Now, researchers reported the case of a 31-year-old Indian woman who developed ACTH-independent Cushing’s syndrome because of tumors in both adrenal glands.

The patient complained of weight gain, red face, moon face, bruising, and menstrual irregularity for the past two years. She recently had been diagnosed with high blood pressure and had started treatment the month prior to the presentation.

A physical examination confirmed obesity in her torso, moon face, buffalo hump, thin skin, excessive hair growth, acne, swollen legs and feet, and skin striae on her abdomen, arms, and legs.

Laboratory examinations showed that the woman had an impaired tolerance to glucose, excess insulin, and elevated cortisol in both the blood and urine. Consistent with features of Cushing’s syndrome, cortisol levels had no circadian rhythm and were non-responsive to a dexamethasone test, which in normal circumstances lowers cortisol production.

Because ACTH levels were within normal levels, researchers suspected an adrenal tumor, which led them to conduct imaging scans.

An abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan showed adrenal adenomas in both adrenal glands (right: 3.1 cm × 2.0 cm × 1.9 cm; left: 2.2 cm × 1.9 cm × 2.1 cm). A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed that the pituitary gland (which normally produces ACTH) was normal.

To determine whether both adrenal tumors were producing cortisol, researchers sampled the adrenal veins and compared their cortisol levels to those of peripheral veins. They found that the left adrenal gland was producing higher amounts of cortisol, thought the right adrenal gland was also producing cortisol in excess.

“Our case indicates that adrenal vein [blood] sampling might be useful for obtaining differential diagnoses” in cases of Cushing’s syndrome, researchers stated. Also, they may help design a surgical plan that makes much more sense.”

The tumors were surgically removed — first the left, and three months later the right — which alleviated many of her symptoms. She also started prednisolone treatment, which helped resolve many disease symptoms.

“Bilateral cortisol-secreting tumors are a rare cause of Cushing’s syndrome,” researchers said. So when patients present bilateral adrenal lesions, “it is crucial to make a definitive diagnosis before operation since various treatments are prescribed for different causes,” they said.

The team recommends that in such cases the two tumors should not be removed at the same time, as this approach may cause adrenal insufficiency and the need for glucocorticoid replacement therapy.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/06/27/rare-case-of-cs-due-to-bilateral-tumors-in-the-adrenal-glands/

Adrenal Gland Lump Led to 5-year-old Developing Cushing’s, Starting Puberty

Non-cancerous adrenal gland tumors can lead to rare cases of Cushing’s syndrome in young children and puberty starting years before it should, a case study of a 5-year-old boy shows.

Removing his right adrenal gland eliminated the problems, the Saudi Arabian researchers said.

Their report dealt with tumors in epithelial cells, which line the surface of many of the body’s structures and cavities.

The research, “Testosterone- and Cortisol-secreting Oncocytic Adrenocortical Adenoma in the Pediatric Age-group,” appeared in the journal Pediatric and Developmental Pathology.

Most tumors in adrenal gland epithelial cells are benign and generate normal levels of hormones. But there are cases when the tumors over-produce steroids and other kinds of hormones, including sex hormones. Sometimes the over-production can lead to Cushing’s syndrome.

The 5-year-old boy’s over-production of adrenal gland hormones led to both symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome and signs that he was starting puberty, the researchers said.

One reason the case was rare is that the average age when Cushing’s develops is 40, doctors say. Another is that epithelial adrenal gland tumors account for only 0.2 percent of all tumors in children, the researchers said.

Signs that the boy was starting puberty began appearing eight months before his parents took him for treatment. Doctors discovered he had the weight gain and rounded face associated with Cushing’s, but a battery of tests detected no other problems. No family members were experiencing the symptoms he was, doctors added.

Biochemical tests showed that the boy had a high level of cortisol in his blood, which doctors were unable to lower with the corticosteroid suppression medication dexamethasone.

Physicians also discovered that the boy had elevated levels of the male hormone testosterone, the cortisol precursor 17-hydroxyprogestrone, the cortisol-releasing hormone adrenocorticotropin, and another male hormone that the adrenal gland produces — dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate

In contrast, doctors discovered a below-normal level of luteinising, a sex hormone that the pituitary gland generates.

Another unusual manifestation of the boy’s condition was that his bone growth was that of a child a year older than he.

Doctors discovered a non-cancerous tumor in his right adrenal gland that they decided to remove. When they did, they discovered no evidence of bleeding, tissue scarring or cell death.

They put the boy on a hydrocortisone supplement, which they reduced over time and finally ended.

Twenty-eight months after the surgery, the boy showed no signs of Cushing’s disease or early puberty. And his weight, cortisol and adrenocorticotropin hormone levels were normal.

“To the best of our knowledge, our patient represents the first male patient” with a benign epithelial-cell adrenal gland tumor “in the pediatric population, with clinical presentation of precocious [early] puberty and Cushing’s syndrome,” the researchers wrote.

“As these tumors are exceptionally rare, reporting of additional cases and investigation of clinicopathological [disease] data are needed for better characterization of these tumors,” they wrote.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2018/02/16/cushings-syndrome-early-puberty-5-year-old-boy-case-study/

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/

Topical Ocular Glucocorticoid Leads to Cushing’s Syndrome in 9-Year-Old

In a case report published online January 19 in Pediatrics, iatrogenic Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is described in a 9-year-old girl who received topical ocular glucocorticoid (GC) treatment for bilateral iridocyclitis.

Daisuke Fukuhara, MD, PhD, from the Kyorin University School of Medicine in Mitaka, Japan, and colleagues present the case of a 9-year-old girl suffering from idiopathic uveitis. She arrived at the ophthalmology department with a complaint of painful eyes, and was diagnosed with bilateral iridocyclitis and started on betamethasone sodium phosphate eye drop treatment.

The authors note that the patient was referred to the pediatric department with stunted growth, truncal obesity, purple skin striae, buffalo hump, and moon face six months after initiation of topical ocular GC treatment. She was diagnosed with iatrogenic CS as her serum cortisol and plasma adrenocorticotropic hormone levels were undetectable. The clinical symptoms of CS were improved after the doses of topical ocular GC were reduced. On genetic analysis, the patient was found to have a single heterozygous nucleotide substitution in the 3′ untranslated region of the NR3C1 gene.

“However, additional investigations are required to determine if our findings can be extrapolated to other patients,” the authors write. “In conclusion, clinicians should be aware that even extremely low doses of topical ocular steroid therapy can cause iatrogenic CS.”

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From http://www.empr.com/news/iatrogenic-cushings-syndrome-topical-ocular-glucocorticoid-iridocyclitis/article/632840/

Day 7, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

On Becoming Empowered. Adapted from my blog post Participatory Medicine

The Society for Participatory Medicine - MemberThis is kind of a “cheat” post since it’s a compilation of other posts, web pages, message board posts and some original thoughts.  I wrote it to submit to Robin’s Grand Rounds, hosted  on her blog.

For all of my early life, I was the good, compliant, patient.  I took whatever pills the doctor prescribed, did whatever tests h/she (most always a he) wrote for.  Believed that whatever he said was the absolute truth.  He had been to med school.  He knew what was wrong with me even though he didn’t live in my body 24/7 and experience what I did.

I know a lot of people are still like this.  Their doctor is like a god to them.  He can do no wrong – even if they don’t feel any better after treatment, even if they feel worse.  “But the doctor said…”

Anyway, I digress.

All this changed for me in 1983.

At first I noticed I’d stopped having my periods and, of course, I thought I was pregnant. I went to my Gynecologist who had no explanation. Lots of women lose their periods for a variety of reasons so no one thought that this was really significant.

Then I got really tired, overly tired. I would take my son to a half hour Choir rehearsal and could not stay awake for the whole time. I would lie down in the back of the van, set an alarm and sleep for the 30 minutes.

A whole raft of other symptoms started appearing – I grew a beard (Hirsuitism), gained weight even though I was on Weight Watchers and working out at the gym nearly every day, lost my period, everything hurt, got what is called a “moon face” and a “buffalo hump” on the back of my neck. I also got stretch marks. I was very depressed but it’s hard to say if that was because of the hormone imbalance or because I felt so bad and no one would listen to me.

I came across a little article in the Ladies Home Journal magazine which said “If you have these symptoms…ask your doctor about Cushing’s”. After that, I started reading everything I could on Cushing’s and asking my doctors. Due to all my reading at the library and medical books I bought, I was sure I had Cushing’s but no one would believe me. Doctors would say that Cushing’s Disease is too rare, that I was making this up and that I couldn’t have it.

I asked doctors for three years – PCP, gynecologist, neurologist, podiatrist – all said the now-famous refrain.  It’s too rare.  You couldn’t have Cushing’s.  I kept persisting in my reading, making copies of library texts even when I didn’t understand them, keeping notes.  I just knew that someone, somewhere would “discover” that I had Cushing’s.

My husband was on the doctors’ sides.  He was sure it was all in my mind (as opposed to all in my head!) and he told me to just think “happy thoughts” and it would all go away.

A Neurologist gave me Xanax. Since he couldn’t see my tumor with his Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machine there was “no possibility” that it existed. Boy was he wrong!

Later in 1986 I started bruising incredibly easily. I could touch my skin and get a bruise. On New Year’s Day of 1987 I started bleeding under the skin. My husband made circles around the outside perimeter each hour with a marker, like the rings of a tree. When I went to my Internist the next day he was shocked at the size. He now thought I had a blood disorder so he sent me to a Hematologist/Oncologist.

Fortunately, the Hematologist/Oncologist ran a twenty-four hour urine test and really looked at me. Both he and his partner recognized that I had Cushing’s. Of course, he was sure that he did the diagnosis.  No matter that I had been pursuing this with other doctors for 3 years.

It was not yet determined if it was Cushing’s Disease (Pituitary) or Syndrome (Adrenal). However, he couldn’t help me any further so the Hematologist referred me to an Endocrinologist.

The Endocrinologist, of course, didn’t trust the other tests I had had done so I was back to square one. He ran his own multitude of tests. He had to draw blood at certain times like 9 AM. and 5 PM. There was a dexamethasone suppression test where I took a pill at 10 p.m. and gave blood at 9 am the next day. I collected gallons of urine in BIG boxes (Fun in the fridge!). Those were from 6 a.m. to 6 a.m. to be delivered to his office by 9 a.m. same day. I was always worried that I’d be stopped in rush hour and the police would ask about what was in that big container. I think I did those for a week. He also did standard neurological tests and asked lots of questions.

When the endo confirmed that I had Cushing’s in 1987 he sent me to a local hospital where they repeated all those same tests for another week and decided that it was not my adrenal gland (Cushing’s Syndrome) creating the problem. The doctors and nurses had no idea what to do with me, so they put me on the brain cancer ward.

When I left this hospital after a week, we didn’t know any more than we had before.

As luck would have it, NIH (National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland) was doing a clinical trial of Cushing’s. I live in the same area as NIH so it was not too inconvenient but very scary at first to think of being tested there. At that time I only had a choice of NIH, Mayo Clinic and a place in Quebec to do this then-rare pituitary surgery called a Transsphenoidal Resection. I chose NIH – closest and free. After I was interviewed by the Doctors there, I got a letter that I had been accepted into the clinical trial. The first time I was there was for 6 weeks as an inpatient. More of the same tests.

There were about 12 of us there and it was nice not to be alone with this mystery disease. Many of these Cushies (mostly women) were getting bald, couldn’t walk, having strokes, had diabetes. One was blind, one had a heart attack while I was there. Towards the end of my testing period, I was looking forward to the surgery just to get this whole mess over with. While I was at NIH, I was gaining about a pound a day!

The MRI still showed nothing, so they did a Petrosal Sinus Sampling Test. That scared me more than the prospect of surgery. (This test carries the risk of stroke and uncontrollable bleeding from the incision points.) Catheters were fed from my groin area to my pituitary gland and dye was injected. I could watch the whole procedure on monitors. I could not move during this test or for several hours afterwards to prevent uncontrolable bleeding from a major artery. The test did show where the tumor probably was located. Also done were more sophisticated dexamethasone suppression tests where drugs were administered by IV and blood was drawn every hour (they put a heplock in my arm so they don’t have to keep sticking me). I got to go home for a weekend and then went back for the surgery – the Transsphenoidal Resection. I fully expected to die during surgery (and didn’t care if I did) so I signed my will and wrote last letters to those I wanted to say goodbye to. During the time I was home just before surgery, a college classmate of mine (I didn’t know her) did die at NIH of a Cushing’s-related problem. I’m so glad I didn’t find out until a couple months later!

November 3, 1987, the surgeon, Dr. Ed Oldfield, cut the gum above my front teeth under my upper lip so there is no scar. He used tiny tools and microscopes. My tumor was removed successfully. In some cases (not mine) the surgeon uses a plug of fat from the abdomen to help seal the cut. Afterwards, I was in intensive care overnight and went to a neurology ward for a few days until I could walk without being dizzy. I had some major headaches for a day or two but they gave me drugs (morphine) for those. Also, I had cotton plugs in my nostrils. It was a big day when they came out. I had diabetes insipidus (DI) for a little while, but that went away by itself – thank goodness!

I had to use a foam product called “Toothies” to brush my teeth without hitting the incision. Before they let me go home, I had to learn to give myself an injection in my thigh. They sent me home with a supply of injectible cortisone in case my level ever fell too low (it didn’t). I was weaned gradually off cortisone pills (scary). I now take no medications. I had to get a Medic Alert bracelet. I will always need to tell medical staff when I have any kind of procedure – the effects of my excess cortisone will remain forever.

I went back to the NIH for several follow-up visits of a week each where they did all the blood and urine testing again. After a few years NIH set me free. Now I go to my “outside” endocrinologist every year for the dexamethasone suppression test, 24-hour urine and regular blood testing.

As I get further away from my surgery, I have less and less chance that my tumor will grow back. I have never lost all the weight I gained and I still have the hair on my chin but most of my other symptoms are gone. I am still and always tired and need a nap most days. I do not, however, still need to take whole days off just to sleep.

I consider myself very lucky that I was treated before I got as bad as some of the others on my floor at NIH but think it is crazy that these symptoms are not taken seriously by doctors.

My story goes on and if you’re interested some is on this blog and some is here:

Forbes Magazine | MaryO’s bio | Cushing’s and Cancer Blog | Guest Speakers | Interview Archive  1/3/08 | Cushing’s Awareness Day Testimonial Archive |

Because of this experience in getting a Cushing’s diagnosis – and later, a prescription for growth hormone – I was concerned that there were probably other people not being diagnosed with Cushing’s. When I searched online for Cushing’s, all the sites that came up were for dogs and horses with Cushing’s.  Not what I was looking for!

In July of 2000, I was talking with my dear friend Alice, who ran a wonderful menopause site, Power Surge, wondering why there weren’t many support groups online (OR off!) for Cushing’s.  This thought percolated through my mind for a few hours and I realized that maybe this was my calling.  Maybe I should be the one to start a network of support for other “Cushies” to help them empower themselves.

I wanted to educate others about the awful disease that took doctors years of my life to diagnose and treat – even after I gave them the information to diagnose me.  I didn’t want anyone else to suffer for years like I did.  I wanted doctors to pay more attention to Cushing’s disease.

The first website (http://www.cushings-help.com) went “live” July 21, 2000.  It was just a single page of information. The message boards began September 30, 2000 with a simple message board which then led to a larger one, and a larger.  Today, in 2016, we have over 12 thousand members and many others on Facebook.  Some “rare disease”!

The message boards are now very active and we have weekly online text chats, weekly live interviews, local meetings, conferences, email newsletters, a clothing exchange, a Cushing’s Awareness Day Forum, podcasts, phone support and much more. Because I wanted to spread the word to others not on “the boards” we have extended out to social networking sites – twitter groups, facebook groups, interviews, websites, chat groups, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest and much, much more.

People are becoming more empowered and participating in their own diagnoses, testing and treatment.  This have changed a lot since 1983!

When I had my Cushing’s nearly 30 years ago, I never thought that I would meet another Cushing’s patient in real life or online. Back then, I’d never even been aware that there was anything like an “online”. I’m so glad that people struggling with Cushing’s today don’t have to suffer anymore thinking that they’re the only one who deals with this.

Because of my work on the websites – and, believe me it is a ton of work! – I have had the honor of meeting over a hundred other Cushies personally at local meetings, conferences, at NIH (the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD where I had my final diagnosis and surgery). It occurred to me once that this is probably more than most endocrinologists will ever see in their entire career. I’ve also talked to countless others on the phone. Amazing for a “rare” disease!

I don’t know what pushed me in 1983, how I got the confidence and self-empowerment to challenge these doctors and their non-diagnoses over the years.  I’m glad that I didn’t suffer any longer than I did and I’m glad that I have a role in helping others to find the medical help that they need.

What do *YOU* think?  How are you becoming empowered?

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