Adrenocortical carcinoma masquerading as Cushing’s disease

BMJ Case Reports 2017; doi:10.1136/bcr-2016-217519

Summary

Cushing’s syndrome (CS) can be classified as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent or ACTH-independent depending on the ACTH levels.

However, 30% of the patients with CS have ACTH levels in the ‘grey zone’ (5–20 pg/mL), thereby posing a challenge in establishing the aetiological diagnosis. In a patient with full-blown features of Cushing’s syndrome with equivocal ACTH levels, and a pituitary microadenoma on contrast-enhanced MRI sella, can falsely lead to a diagnosis of Cushing’s disease. Pituitary microadenoma, if <6 mm in size, may be an incidental finding (incidentaloma) in this scenario and can be present in ∼3–27% of the healthy population. Therefore, in a patient with CS with equivocal ACTH levels and a pituitary microadenoma, multiple samplings for ACTH and adrenal imaging should be performed to exclude ACTH-independent CS and if required, bilateral inferior petrosal sinus sampling to determine the source of ACTH excess.

Find the entire article here: http://casereports.bmj.com/content/2017/bcr-2016-217519.full

Pituitary Issues: Irregular Periods

Q: I am 28 years old and I have not yet started my periods naturally. I have to take medicine for periods — Novelon. The doctors say that there is some problem with my hormones in the pituitary gland. Please advise me how to get normal and natural periods, because after taking the medicine I get my period, but without medicines I don’t.

A by Dr Sharmaine Mitchell: The problem you have with your menstrual period being irregular is most likely due to overproduction of the hormone prolactin by the pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary gland can sometimes enlarge and cause an overproduction of prolactin and this can result in inappropriate milk production in the breasts (white nipple discharge), irregular menstruation or absent menstrual periods, headaches and blurred vision. The blurred vision occurs as a result of compression of the optic nerve which supplies the eyes, by the enlarged brain tumour in the pituitary gland.

You should get a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or CT scan of the brain and pituitary gland done. You should also test your prolactin levels to determine the extent of overproduction of the hormone.

Other investigations should include a thyroid function test (TSH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and leutinizing hormone (LH), and baseline testosterone level tests.

Abnormalities in the production of thyroid hormones can also cause menstrual irregularities and this should be ruled out.

Polycystic ovarian disease can also cause irregular menstrual periods and checking the level of FSH, LH and testosterone will help to rule out this diagnosis. This condition is usually associated with excessive weight gain, abnormal male pattern distribution on the face, chest and abdomen and an increased risk for diabetes mellitus. A pelvic ultrasound to look at the structure of the ovaries and to rule out polycystic ovaries is essential.

If the pituitary gland is enlarged, then medication can be prescribed to shrink it. Bromocriptine or Norprolac are commonly used drugs which work well in reducing the prolactin levels and establishing regular menstrual cycles. The use of these drugs will also help to establish ovulation and improve your fertility.

In some cases it may become necessary to have surgery done if the tumour in the pituitary gland is large and does not respond to the usual medications prescribed to shrink the pituitary gland. The MRI of the brain and pituitary gland will give an idea as to the size of the gland and help to determine if there is a need for you to see the neurosurgeon.

In most cases medical management with drugs will work well and there is no need for surgical intervention. This is a problem that can recur, so it may be necessary to take treatment intermittently for a long period of time, especially if fertility is desired.

Consult your doctor who will advise you further. Best wishes.

Dr Sharmaine Mitchell is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Send questions via e-mail to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com; write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Ave, Kingston 5; or fax to 968-2025. All responses are published. Dr Mitchell cannot provide personal responses.

DISCLAIMER:

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and must not be relied upon as an alternative to medical advice or treatment from your own doctor.

From http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/allwoman/Still-no-normal-period-at-28_87596

Into the brain through the nostrils (Sri Lanka)

There is purposeful concentration, while soft and soothing music plays in the background, as different teams of doctors and nurses, scrub up and move around Operating Theatre (OT) C of the Anuradhapura Teaching Hospital.

On the operating table is a pretty middle-aged woman, but something seems unusual with her face – it seems unduly large, with the nose being pronounced.

While Consultant Anaesthetist Dr. Ayesha Abeyratne and her team are preparing the patient for surgery, two Consultants from different specialties are studying the Magnetic Resonance Imaging pictures. They are Consultant Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Surgeon, Dr. Daminda Dumingoarachchi who is also a Head and Neck Surgeon and Consultant Neurosurgeon, Dr. Stravinsky Perera. Although not present in the OT that day, Consultant ENT Surgeon Dr. Upul Abeysundara is also very much a part of this pioneering work in Sri Lanka.

It is a Monday morning and we too are in OT clothes and masks privy to viewing an operation not done anywhere else in the state sector, except the Anuradhapura Hospital.

Accessing the patient’s brain through the nostrils is what the ENT and Neuro Teams will do in one of many trailblazing procedures, while the Anaesthetic Team will ensure that her vitals are stable and the able theatre nursing staff will play their part.

Image-guided (navigation-assisted) endoscopic trans-nasal trans-sphenoidal pituitary surgery is what we are about to view being performed in the country only since October this year. For, the 38-year-old patient lying inert on the operating table has a tumour just above her pituitary gland, between the optic nerves and the carotid arteries, making it a difficult operation-site to access. (The pea-size pituitary gland is dubbed the ‘master gland’ as it produces many hormones for the whole body, while also stimulating other glands to produce other hormones.)

Dr. Dumingoarachchi points out that the ENT navigator which the Anuradhapura Hospital was provided with recently, is like the GPS system of the brain which shows this vital organ’s architecture.

Dr. Perera explains that the patient has acromegaly, the abnormal production of growth hormones from the pituitary, causing a large nose and big hands etc. This is while it also causes an abnormal reduction in other hormones, affecting the functioning of the whole body. The enlarged pituitary is also compressing the main artery of the brain. A major issue is that the patient’s vision is being affected and if the tumour is not decompressed, she would go blind.

Dr. Daminda Dumingoarachchi

Matters also seem complicated as the patient had undergone ‘conventional’ brain surgery to remove an earlier tumour in the same area in 2009 in another hospital, but some parts had been left behind because it was complex surgery and the slightest slip of the scalpel could cause serious harm.

We watch in fascination as the surgical teams discuss how the tumour has grown around the right carotid artery making it a challenging procedure and is pressing down (compressing) on the brain.

This pituitary macroadenoma with acute intra-tumoural haemorrhage (bleeding) is “big” — 5X3.8X3.5cms, says Dr. Perera, adding that laterally, the lesion extends to the right cavernous sinus encircling almost the full circumference of the cavernous part of the right carotid artery. The left carotid artery is spared.

Super-imposing the patient’s Computed Tomography (CT) scan with images of the real anatomy, the ‘registration’ takes place for this ‘re-do’ surgery, as he explains that the anatomy is distorted after her previous surgery done seven years ago.

In the freezing OT, we don’t feel the time passing as both the Neurosurgeon and the ENT Surgeon attend to their tasks, two pairs of hands working in tandem, not looking down at the patient but up at the two screens, while navigating the pathways through the nostrils to the brain.

Usually, such a large tumour above the pituitary gland will entail open-skull surgery, with the brain having to be retracted (drawn away from the site of the operation) to gain access to the tumour, we learn. While the dangers of such surgery are numerous, the patient also has to spend a long time in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in the recovery phase.

With the frontiers of medicine pushed back more and more, Dr. Dumingoarachchi says that now skull-base structures can be approached through the nose, ear and throat. “Such surgery involves dealing with pathologies located on the under-surface of the brain, with Neurosurgeons and ENT Surgeons together accessing the skull-base more easily through the nose, ear and throat.”

Pointing out that these trans-nasal and trans-labyrinthine approaches to the skull-base will help bring down the rate of revision neurosurgeries and cut down the time that the patient will have to spend in the ICU post-operatively, he adds that the patients can go back home sooner without complications and be productive more quickly. Currently, some patients even go to other countries to get these services.

With the Health Ministry providing a high definition 3-chip endoscopic camera system, an anterior skull-base set, a micro-debrider and an ENT navigator, vast strides have been made at the Anuradhapura Hospital. They include:

Dr. Stravinsky Perera

Anterior skull-base surgeries — Endoscopic anterior skull-base surgeries, starting with pituitary surgeries using the endoscopic trans-sphenoidal approach for the first time in Sri Lanka. The latest addition, in October this year, is image-guidance (navigation).

The other procedures include cranio-pharyngioma, olfactory neuroblastoma, cerebrospinal fluid leak repairs, para-nasal sinus cancer resections and odontoid (cervical spine) decompression.

The advantages of this approach include a better field of view and ease of doing revision surgery if required, while leaving no external scars.

Nasal polyposis is also now being managed by image-guided powered full house functional endoscopic sinus surgeries, resulting in the reduction of the recurrence rate. This also cuts down revision surgeries.

*  Lateral skull-base surgeries – Through microscopic lateral skull-base surgery, trans-labyrinthine acoustic neuromas have been removed. With direct access to these eighth-nerve tumours, no brain retraction has been necessitated, resulting in less post-operative morbidity. The whole tumour can be removed while preserving the seventh cranial nerve, as the hospital has also been given intra-operative cranial nerve monitoring facilities.

Paying tribute to Dr. Palitha Mahipala, Director-General of Health Services, for making the navigator available to them, Dr. Dumingoarachchi also expresses appreciation to the Deputy Director-General (DDG) of the Biomedical Division, Muditha Jayathilake, Biomedical Engineers Apsara and Kumuduni and DDG Dr. Lakshmi Somatunga for all their support.

From http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161218/news/into-the-brain-through-the-nostrils-221019.html

Day 18, Cushing’s Awareness Challenge 2016

I have seen this image several places online and it never ceases to crack me up. Sometimes, we really have strange things going on inside our bodies.

Usually, unlike Kermit, we ourselves know that something isn’t quite right, even before the doctors know. Keep in touch with your own body so you’ll know, even before the MRI.

I asked doctors for several 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.

Finally, someone did.

These days, there’s no excuse to keep you from learning all you can about what’s going on with you. There’s your computer and the internet. Keep reading and learning all you can. You have a vested interest in what’s going on inside, not your doctor.

 

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?

%d bloggers like this: