Prevalence of Nelson’s Syndrome After Bilateral Adrenalectomy in Patients with Cushing’s Disease

Eleni PapakokkinouMarta PiaseckaHanne Krage CarlsenDimitrios ChantzichristosDaniel S. OlssonPer DahlqvistMaria PeterssonKatarina BerinderSophie BensingCharlotte HöybyeBritt Edén EngströmPia BurmanCecilia FollinDavid PetranekEva Marie ErfurthJeanette WahlbergBertil EkmanAnna-Karin ÅkermanErik SchwarczGudmundur JohannssonHenrik Falhammar & Oskar Ragnarsson

Abstract

Purpose

Bilateral adrenalectomy (BA) still plays an important role in the management of Cushing’s disease (CD). Nelson’s syndrome (NS) is a severe complication of BA, but conflicting data on its prevalence and predicting factors have been reported. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of NS, and identify factors associated with its development.

Data sources

Systematic literature search in four databases.

Study Selection

Observational studies reporting the prevalence of NS after BA in adult patients with CD.

Data extraction

Data extraction and risk of bias assessment were performed by three independent investigators.

Data synthesis

Thirty-six studies, with a total of 1316 CD patients treated with BA, were included for the primary outcome. Pooled prevalence of NS was 26% (95% CI 22–31%), with moderate to high heterogeneity (I2 67%, P < 0.01). The time from BA to NS varied from 2 months to 39 years. The prevalence of NS in the most recently published studies, where magnet resonance imaging was used, was 38% (95% CI 27–50%). The prevalence of treatment for NS was 21% (95% CI 18–26%). Relative risk for NS was not significantly affected by prior pituitary radiotherapy [0.9 (95% CI 0.5–1.6)] or pituitary surgery [0.6 (95% CI 0.4–1.0)].

Conclusions

Every fourth patient with CD treated with BA develops NS, and every fifth patient requires pituitary-specific treatment. The risk of NS may persist for up to four decades after BA. Life-long follow-up is essential for early detection and adequate treatment of NS.

Introduction

Cushing´s disease (CD) is a rare disorder associated with excess morbidity and increased mortality [12]. Previously, bilateral adrenalectomy (BA) was the mainstay treatment for CD. During the last decades, however, other treatment modalities have emerged, including pituitary surgery, radiotherapy and medical treatments. Despite this, BA is still considered when other treatment options have failed to achieve remission, or when a rapid relief of hypercortisolism is necessary [3].

BA is considered to be a safe and effective treatment for CD [4], especially after the laparoscopic approach was introduced during the 1990s [5]. There are, however, significant drawbacks with BA, mainly the unavoidable chronic adrenal insufficiency, as well as the risk for Nelson’s syndrome (NS), i.e., growth of the remaining pituitary tumor and excessive production of ACTH, that may cause optic nerve or chiasmal compression and mucocutaneous hyperpigmentation [6].

The prevalence of NS varies between studies, mainly due to a lack of consensus on the definition and diagnostic criteria for the syndrome [78]. Previously published studies are also inconsistent as to whether factors such as previous radiotherapy, age at BA, gender and duration of CD, may affect the risk of developing NS. Furthermore, high ACTH concentrations after BA have been suggested as a risk factor for developing NS [9,10,11,12].

Thus, the primary aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to estimate the prevalence of NS after BA for CD, both the total prevalence of NS as well the prevalence of NS requiring treatment with pituitary surgery and/or radiotherapy. The secondary aim was to investigate risk factors associated with development of NS.

Methods

A systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) [13]. The PICO process was applied for the definition of the research question and eligibility criteria for the literature search. The protocol of this review was registered in the PROSPERO database (CRD42020163918).

Search strategy

We searched PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Library and Web of Science on February 25th 2020, with no start date restriction, for relevant articles by using the following terms: “Cushing´s syndrome” or “Cushing´s disease” or “Hypercortisolism” or “Pituitary ACTH hypersecretion” or “corticotroph tumor” or “corticotroph tumors” or “corticotroph adenoma” or “corticotroph adenomas” or “corticotropinoma” or “corticotropinomas” or “corticotrophinoma” or “corticotrophinomas” or “ACTH pituitary adenoma” or “ACTH pituitary adenomas” or “adrenocorticotropin pituitary adenoma” or “adrenocorticotropin pituitary adenomas” AND “bilateral adrenalectomy” or “bilateral adrenalectomies” or “total adrenalectomy” or “total adrenalectomies”. A detailed description of the search strategy is given in the Supplementary. Also, references of the included studies and relevant review articles were checked manually for additional articles. A new search was performed on January 12th 2021, prior submission, to identify any new publications.

Study selection and eligibility criteria

Eligible studies were observational studies (cohort or cross-sectional studies) reporting the prevalence of NS in adult patients with CD treated with BA. Studies including only children (age < 18 years), review articles, letters, commentaries and meeting abstracts were excluded. Moreover, case reports, case-series and studies with a population of fewer than 10 cases were excluded. Also, studies written in languages other than English were not considered for inclusion.

Data collection process and data extraction

Titles and abstracts from all identified articles were screened for eligibility and further full-text assessment by three independent investigators (EP, MP, OR). Discrepancies were resolved through discussion and consensus. Duplicate articles and studies with overlapping populations were excluded. In the latter case, the publication with the largest population, more comprehensive information on relevant clinical variables and/or lowest risk of bias was included.

Full-text assessment and data extraction were conducted independently by the same investigators as above. Data on the following predefined variables were extracted: first author, year of publication, region/hospital, study period, characteristics of the study population (number of patients, gender, follow-up, age at CD, age at BA, previous treatment with radiotherapy and/or pituitary surgery, ACTH concentrations at BA, MRI findings at CD and at BA), intervention (BA as primary or secondary treatment, remission status) and outcome (criteria for NS, number of patients with NS, age at NS, time from BA to NS, ACTH concentrations one year after BA, number of patients treated for NS, type of treatment; pituitary radiotherapy and/or pituitary surgery).

One of the studies included in the meta-analysis is our nationwide Swedish study on CD [2]. Additional clinical data, not provided in the original publication, was retrieved and used in the current analysis (Table 1).Table 1 Characteristics of the included studiesFull size table

Risk of bias assessment

The Newcastle–Ottawa Scale [14], modified to suit the current study, was used for assessment of risk of bias of all included studies. Three investigators (EP, MP, OR) assessed the studies independently, and any disagreements were resolved by discussion. Selection, comparability and outcome were assessed through predefined criteria. All studies that provided information on NS as outcome, and/or corticotroph tumor progression, were included, and the definition as well as the treatment of NS were recorded (Table 1 and Table S1). A clear definition of NS and information on treatment were considered to be two of the most important components of the quality assessment. We considered the definition of NS to be clear when it included either a new visible pituitary tumor or progression of a pituitary tumor remnant following BA, alone, or in combination with high ACTH concentrations and/or hyperpigmentation. Detailed description of the criteria for the risk of bias assessment is provided in the Supplementary file. Studies with an overall score ≥ 5 (max overall grade 8) and a clear definition of NS, were considered to have a low risk of bias.

Data synthesis and statistical analysis

Primary endpoints were the prevalence of NS, as well as the prevalence of pituitary-specific treatment for NS. Descriptive data are presented as median (range or interquartile range; IQR). Meta-analysis was performed by using the meta package in R (version 4.0.3) [15]. Statistical pooling was performed according to random-effects model due to the clinical heterogeneity among the included studies [16]. For all analyses, indices of heterogeneity, I2 statistics and Cochrane’s Q test, are reported. For the primary outcomes we estimated pooled prevalence with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). Statistical significance was defined as P < 0.05. The possibility of publication bias was assessed by visual inspection of funnel plots as well as with the Egger’s test [17].

Sensitivity analyses were performed by excluding studies with an overall risk of bias < 5, and studies where information on diagnostic criteria for NS was lacking. By choosing the overall risk of bias < 5, all studies without adequate follow-up were also excluded (Table S2). Also, another sensitivity analysis was performed by including all studies reporting the number of patients with NS who received treatment for NS (Table 1).

Subgroup analyses were performed to investigate factors that may affect the prevalence of NS, namely pituitary radiotherapy prior to BA, prophylactic pituitary radiotherapy, overall radiotherapy (prior to BA or prophylactic), pituitary surgery (transcranial or transsphenoidal surgery) prior to BA, and BA as primary or secondary treatment. For these outcomes, we estimated relative risks (RRs), or pooled prevalence, with 95% CIs. Also, in a subgroup analysis, the prevalence (with 95% CI) of NS and treatment for NS were estimated in studies where MRI was used at diagnosis and during follow-up.

Uni- and bivariate meta-regression was used to investigate whether the prevalence of NS was influenced by median follow-up time or age at BA. The meta-analysis was performed by using the Metareg command in R. The estimated association is reported as β coefficient.

Role of funding source

The funding source had no role in the design and conduction of the study; i.e., collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Results

Identification and description of included studies

After removal of duplicates, 1702 articles were identified (Fig. 1). Three additional articles were found after checking the reference lists of identified articles and review papers. After reviewing titles, abstracts and full-text articles, 48 articles were considered eligible for further analysis. Of these, however, 11 articles were excluded due to overlapping or identical patient cohorts. Thus, 37 studies published between 1976 and 2020, were included in the current meta-analysis (Fig. 1). All studies had a retrospective observational design. Characteristics of the included studies are presented in Table 1. Two of the included studies had an overlapping cohort where one was used for the main outcome [18] and one [19] for the subgroup analyses on the influence of radiotherapy on the development of NS. An overview of risk of bias assessment of the eligible studies is provided in Table S2.

figure1
Fig. 1

In total, 1316 patients with CD treated with BA were included. The median follow-up after BA was 7 years (23 studies, range 3.3–22). Median age at BA in patients with NS was 31 years (13 studies, IQR 26–34). Median time from BA to the diagnosis of NS was 4 years (19 studies) with the shortest reported time being 2 months [20] and the longest 39 years [2]. At diagnosis of NS, hyperpigmentation was reported in 155 of 188 (82%) patients (19 studies) and chiasmal compression in 24 of 129 (19%) patients [11 studies].

Prevalence of NS

Thirty-six of 37 studies, with total 1316 patients with CD treated with BA, were included [21820,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36,37,38,39,40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53]. Reported prevalence of NS ranged from 4 to 60%. The mean pooled prevalence was 26% (95% CI 22–31%) with a moderate to high heterogeneity (I2 67%, P < 0.01) (Fig. 2). The Egger’s test was statistically significant (P = 0.01), but visual inspection showed no obvious asymmetry. The significant Egger’s test indicates publication bias, probably explained by the fact that case reports and cohorts with fewer than 10 participants were excluded (Fig. S1).

figure2
Fig. 2

In a sensitivity analysis, excluding all studies with high risk of bias (overall score < 5) and no clear definition of NS, the pooled prevalence was 31% (95% CI 24–38%; I2 76%, 17 studies, 822 patients; P < 0.01) (Fig. S2). In a subgroup analysis, the prevalence of NS in studies where MRI was used at diagnosis and during follow-up was 38% (Fig. 3; 95% CI 27–50%; I2 71%, 7 studies, 280 patients; P < 0.01).

figure3
Fig. 3

Prevalence of treated NS

The pooled prevalence of treatment for NS was 21% (95% CI 18–26%; I2 52%, P < 0.01) (Table 1; 29 studies with 1074 patients). Thus, the pooled prevalence was slightly lower, compared to the pooled prevalence of NS in total, as well as the heterogeneity (Fig. S3). The funnel plot showed no asymmetry and Egger’s test was not statistically significant, indicating low possibility of publication bias (Fig. S4). In a subgroup analysis, the prevalence of treated NS in studies where MRI was used at diagnosis and during follow-up was 25% (95% CI 17–35%; I2 61%, 7 studies; P = 0.02).

The indication for treatment was progression of the pituitary tumor in 23 out of 28 patients (82%, five studies), optic chiasmal compression in 11 out of 91 patients (12%, 11 studies), while four patients out of 14 (one study) had both these indications for treatment. Twenty-six studies provided information on treatment modalities (pituitary surgery and/or radiotherapy). Seventy-three out of 201 patients with NS (36%) were treated with pituitary surgery, 86 (43%) with radiotherapy and 41 (20%) received both treatments.

Radiotherapy

Nineteen studies provided information on radiotherapy prior to BA. However, nine studies had no events and no patients in one of the arms (radiotherapy or no radiotherapy) (Table S3). Thus, ten studies were eligible for further estimation, showing that the risk for NS in patients treated with radiotherapy prior to BA was comparable to the risk in patients not treated with radiotherapy (RR 0.9, 95% CI 0.5–1.6; 10 studies with 564 patients) (Fig. 4).

figure4
Fig. 4

Thirteen studies provided information on prophylactic radiotherapy. However, only one study provided applicable data for calculating RR, thus subgroup analysis was not performed (Table S4). In that study [20], none of the seventeen patients who received prophylactic radiotherapy developed NS, while 11 of 22 patients without radiotherapy developed NS after a mean follow-up of 4.4 years (range 10–16 years).

By using studies with information on either previous or prophylactic radiotherapy (11 studies with 603 patients; Table S5), the pooled RR was 0.8 (95% CI 0.5–1.5).

Pituitary surgery prior to BA

Of 21 studies with information on pituitary surgery prior to BA (Table S6), only ten provided information for estimation of RR. A pooled RR of 0.6 (10 studies with 430 patients; 95% CI 0.4–1.0) was found (Fig. 5), indicating that the risk for developing NS was not influenced by previous pituitary surgery.

figure5
Fig. 5

BA as primary or secondary treatment for CD

Information on whether patients with NS were treated primarily with BA or not, was provided in ten and nine studies, respectively (Fig. S5 and S6). The pooled prevalence of NS was 26% (95% CI 20–33%) for patients treated primarily with BA and 22% (95% CI 15–31%) for patients who had been treated with pituitary surgery and/or radiotherapy prior to BA.

ACTH concentrations one year after BA

Four studies provided information on ACTH concentrations during the first year after BA [45495253]. In a study by Assié et al. the median ACTH concentration in patients who developed NS was 301 pmol/L, compared to 79 pmol/L in patients without NS (upper range of limit; URL 13 pmol/L) [52]. The median ACTH concentration in a study by Cohen et al. was 105 pmol/L in the NS group compared to 18 pmol/L in patients without NS (P = 0.007) (URL 10 pmol/L) [49]. Also, in a study by Das et al., there was a statistically significant difference in ACTH concentrations one year after BA between patients with and without NS (110 vs 21 pmol/L respectively; P = 0.002) [53]. On the contrary, Espinosa-de-Los-Monteros et al.found no difference in ACTH concentrations between the patients with NS and those without NS [45]. Thus, three of four studies found that high ACTH concentrations one year after BA were associated with the development of NS. However, since the ACTH assays and the conditions when ACTH was collected were different in these studies (Table S7), further comparison or a meta-analysis on ACTH levels after BA was not considered feasible.

Influence of age at BA and duration of follow-up on prevalence of NS

In a meta-regression analysis, age at BA (β-coefficient = – 0.03, P = 0.4; Fig. 6) and median duration of follow-up (β-coefficient = 0.01, P = 0.7; Fig. S7) were not associated with prevalence of NS. After adjustment for follow-up, age at BA was still not associated with prevalence of NS (β-coefficient = -0.03, P = 0.4).

figure6
Fig. 6

Discussion

In this study we have for the first time evaluated the pooled prevalence of NS by using a meta-analysis on data from 36 studies, including more than 1300 patients with CD treated with BA. The overall prevalence of NS was 26% and the median time from BA to diagnosis of NS was 4 years, ranging from 0.2 to 39 years. The prevalence of patients requiring pituitary-specific treatment for NS was 21%. Furthermore, radiotherapy and pituitary surgery prior to BA, as well as age at BA, did not seem to affect the risk of developing NS.

Various definitions have been used for NS over the past decades [12]. Historically, the diagnosis was based on clinical findings related to mucocutaneous hyperpigmentation and chiasmal compression, together with signs of an enlarged sella turcica on skull radiography [6]. Since then, the diagnosis of NS in most studies has been based on (i) radiological evidence of a pituitary tumor that becomes visible, or a progression of a preexisting tumor, (ii) “high” ACTH concentrations, and (iii) hyperpigmentation [54]. In the studies with the highest prevalence of NS [4546], the diagnosis was based on rising ACTH concentrations and an expanding pituitary mass, where 2 mm increment in tumor size on MRI was considered to be a significant growth. On the contrary, the criteria for NS in studies with the lowest prevalence were based on hyperpigmentation, often but not always combined with a pituitary tumor responding to radiotherapy and/or a radiographic evidence of pituitary tumor on skull radiography [2123]. Thus, the great variance in the prevalence of NS between studies can, at least partly, be explained by the different definitions of NS. Consequently, in an expert opinion published in 2010, it was suggested that the diagnosis of NS should be based on an elevated level of ACTH >500 ng/L (110 pmol/L) in addition to rising levels of ACTH on at least three consecutive occasions and/or an expanding pituitary mass on MRI or CT following BA [54]. Similarly, in a recently published expert consensus recommendation, based on a systematic review, it was suggested that NS should be defined as radiological progression or new detection of a pituitary tumor on a thin-section MRI [55]. Furthermore, the authors recommend active surveillance with MRI three months after BA, and every 12 months for the first 3 years, and every 2–4 years thereafter, based on clinical findings. The meta-regression of the current analysis did not show an association between median follow-up time and prevalence of NS. Nevertheless, NS occurred as early as 2 months [20], and up to 39 years after BA [2], supporting that life-long surveillance after BA is necessary for patients with CD.

Active surveillance with MRI was more common in studies published during the last two decades. In fact, the use of MRI in recent studies resulted in earlier detection of a growing pituitary adenoma and, subsequently, contributed to a higher prevalence of NS. Namely, the seven studies including patients treated with BA after 1990 and using MRI reported higher prevalence of NS, both overall NS and treated NS.

Whether factors such as pituitary radiotherapy affects the risk for development of NS has been evaluated in several studies. Some studies have shown that radiotherapy prior to BA, or administrated prophylactically, can prevent or delay the development of NS [2039]. On the contrary, other studies have not demonstrated a protective effect of radiotherapy prior to BA [1837] and, moreover, one study found an association with tumor progression [46]. Nevertheless, the current meta-analysis indicates that radiotherapy prior to BA does not decrease the risk of developing NS. Neither did previous pituitary surgery affect the risk for NS.

Elevated ACTH concentrations during the first year after BA have been considered to be a strong predictor of NS [4952]. In fact, seven studies in the current analysis included cut-off levels for ACTH concentration, arbitrarily defined, for the diagnosis of NS [18253436414549]. Due to the different ACTH assays, and different conditions when ACTH was collected, no further analysis on ACTH levels was performed. Nevertheless, four studies [45495253] reported ACTH concentrations one year after BA in both patients with and without NS. Three of these studies found that high ACTH concentrations one year after BA [495253] were associated with pituitary tumor progression. Thus, these findings support the suggestion that ACTH should be monitored following BA in patients with CD [5455].

The prevalence of treatment for NS (21%), and the heterogeneity index (52%), were slightly lower than in the analysis of total prevalence of NS (26%, I2 67%). The majority of the patients was treated with radiotherapy, followed by pituitary surgery and combination of pituitary surgery and radiotherapy. Today, surgical removal of the pituitary tumor is considered to be the first-line therapy of NS whereas radiotherapy is considered if surgery has failed or is not possible [125456]. In a large multi-center study by Fountas et al., the 10-year progression-free survival rates after surgery alone, or with radiotherapy, for patients with NS was 80% and 81%, respectively [57]. In comparison, progression-free survival rate in patients who did not receive treatment was 51%. Reports on the efficacy of medical therapy for NS have shown inconsistent results [56].

Strengths and limitations

This is the largest systematic review, and the first meta-analysis, on NS published to date. However, some limitations have to be acknowledged. Most important are the different diagnostic methods used to detect NS, and the different definitions of the syndrome between the studies. The majority of the studies have used the combination of hyperpigmentation, high ACTH concentrations and radiological findings for the diagnosis of NS. Notwithstanding these common criteria, there were still differences in the cut-offs of ACTH levels, the use of different radiological modalities over time as well as the radiological definition of progress of pituitary tumors. Moreover, in some studies radiological findings were used solely or in combination with either hyperpigmentation and/or bitemporal hemianopsia, ACTH concentrations or response to treatment of NS. Furthermore, in several studies a clear definition of NS was not provided. Nevertheless, we consider our attempt to address the heterogeneity of the included studies, through systematic review, quality assessment, and sensitivity and subgroup analyses to be a strength.

Conclusions

The risk of NS after BA in patients with CD is considerable and may first become clinically evident many decades later. Thus, life-long close follow-up is necessary for an early detection of a growing pituitary tumor, and adequate treatment when needed. Although this meta-analysis did not find prior surgery or radiotherapy to be associated with risk of NS, the findings are based on a limited number of studies. Thus, in order to individualize the treatment for patients with CD, further studies are needed where these and other factors possibly associated with risk of NS are evaluated.

Data availability

The data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article or in the Supplementary file.

Abbreviations

CD:

Cushing’s diseaseBA:

Bilateral adrenalectomyNS:

Nelson’s syndromeACTH:

Adrenocorticotropic hormoneRR:

Relative riskMRI:

Magnet resonance imagingCT:

Computer tomography

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Therese Svanberg, librarian at the Medical Library at Sahlgrenska University Hospital for her expert assistance with the literature search.

Funding

Open access funding provided by University of Gothenburg. The study was financed by grants from the Swedish state under the agreement between the Swedish government and the county councils, the ALF-agreement (ALFGBG-593301) and a grant from the Gothenburg Society of Medicine.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition, Institute of Medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, 413 45, Gothenburg, SwedenEleni Papakokkinou, Marta Piasecka, Dimitrios Chantzichristos, Daniel S. Olsson, Gudmundur Johannsson & Oskar Ragnarsson
  2. The Department of Endocrinology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Blå stråket 5, 413 45, Gothenburg, SwedenEleni Papakokkinou, Marta Piasecka, Dimitrios Chantzichristos, Daniel S. Olsson, Gudmundur Johannsson & Oskar Ragnarsson
  3. Department of Environmental and Occupational Health School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Gothenburg, 4053, Gothenburg, SwedenHanne Krage Carlsen
  4. Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Umeå University, 901 87, Umeå, SwedenPer Dahlqvist
  5. Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery, Karolinska Institutet, 17176, Stockholm, SwedenMaria Petersson, Katarina Berinder, Sophie Bensing, Charlotte Höybye & Henrik Falhammar
  6. Department of Endocrinology, Karolinska University Hospital, 171 76, Stockholm, SwedenMaria Petersson, Katarina Berinder, Sophie Bensing, Charlotte Höybye & Henrik Falhammar
  7. Department of Endocrinology and Diabetes, Uppsala University Hospital, and Department of Medical Sciences, Endocrinology and Mineral Metabolism, Uppsala University, 751 85, Uppsala, SwedenBritt Edén Engström
  8. Department of Endocrinology, Skåne University Hospital, University of Lund, 205 02, Malmö, SwedenPia Burman
  9. Department of Endocrinology, Skåne University Hospital, 222 42, Lund, SwedenCecilia Follin, David Petranek & Eva Marie Erfurth
  10. Department of Endocrinology and Department of Medical and Health Sciences, Linköping University, 581 83, Linköping, SwedenJeanette Wahlberg & Bertil Ekman
  11. Department of Internal Medicine, School of Health and Medical Sciences, Örebro University, 702 81, Örebro, SE, SwedenJeanette Wahlberg, Anna-Karin Åkerman & Erik Schwarcz

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Correspondence to Oskar Ragnarsson.

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Papakokkinou, E., Piasecka, M., Carlsen, H.K. et al. Prevalence of Nelson’s syndrome after bilateral adrenalectomy in patients with cushing’s disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Pituitary (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11102-021-01158-z

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Keywords

  • Bilateral adrenalectomy
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Corticotroph adenoma
  • Nelson’s syndrome

From https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11102-021-01158-z

Acromegaly: Chronic disease root of young man’s abnormally gray hair and facial changes

A chronic, progressive disease was discovered to be the reason why a man in his 20s experienced a sudden increase of gray hair and facial changes, local doctors said.

The man recently went to Renji Hospital to find out why the changes had taken place.

Doctors suspected he suffered from acromegaly, a chronic disease characterized by enlargement of head bones, soft parts of the feet and hands and sometimes other parts of the body due to excessive secretion of growth hormones by the pituitary gland.

Doctors conducted an MRI and found a pituitary tumor, which caused the man’s acromegaly. To their surprise, doctors also found a cyst in his brain.

Doctors conducted one successful surgery to treat both problems simultaneously.

Dr Ma Jing, director of Renji Hospital’s endocrinology department, said acromegaly is an endocrine metabolism disease that has no symptoms in its early stages, and most people are not diagnosed with it until they are 40 or 50, commonly 4.5 to 9 years after originally contracting the disease — in some extreme cases, 20 years later.

In addition to affecting the hands, feet and face, the disease can afflict the cardiovascular system, causing problems like hypertension and poor heart function. Those with the disease also have a higher risk of diabetes, thyroid and intestinal tumors, Ma said.

“Since people with acromegaly usually have abnormal endocrine function, early screening and diagnosis is important,” she said.

From https://www.shine.cn/news/metro/2105078537/

Chronic Insomnia Can Be Sign of Cushing’s

Abstract

Background: Cushing’s syndrome is a condition caused by excessive glucocorticoid with insomnia as one of its neuropsychiatric manifestation. Cushing’s syndrome may be caused by excessive adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH-dependent), for example from ACTH producing pituitary tumors, or by overproduction of cortisol by adrenocortical tumors. In this report, we presented a case with Cushing’s syndrome manifesting as chronic insomnia with adrenal cortical adenoma and pituitary microadenoma.

Case presentation: A 30-year-old woman was consulted from the Neurologic Department to the Internal Medicine Department with the chief complaint of insomnia and worsening headache for 6 months prior to the admission. She had undergone head MRI and abdominal CT scan previously and was found to have both pituitary microadenoma and left adrenal mass. From the physical examination she had clinical signs of Cushing’s syndrome like Cushingoid face and purplish striae on her stomach. Midnight cortisol serum examination was done initially and showed high level of cortisol. High dose dexamethasone suppression test or DST (8 mg overnight) was later performed to help determine the main cause of Cushing’s syndrome. The result failed to reach 50% suppression of cortisol serum, suggestive that the Cushing’s syndrome was not ACTH-dependent from the pituitary but potentially from overproduction of cortisol by the left adrenal mass. Therefore, left adrenalectomy was performed and the histopathological study supported the diagnosis of adrenal cortical adenoma.

Conclusion: Chronic insomnia is a very important symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome that should not be neglected. The patient had both microadenoma pituitary and left adrenal mass thus high dose DST test (8 mg overnight) needed to be performed to differentiate the source of Cushing’s syndrome. The result showed only little suppression therefore the pituitary microadenoma was not the source of Cushing’s syndrome and more suggestive from the adrenal etiology.

Keywords: Cushing’s syndrome; insomnia; adrenal cortical adenoma; pituitary microadenoma; dexamethasone suppression test

Permalink/DOI: https://doi.org/10.14710/jbtr.v7i1.9247I

Read the entire article here: https://ejournal2.undip.ac.id/index.php/jbtr/article/view/9247/5440

How does COVID-19 impact the adrenal gland?

This month marks a little over one year since the first surge of COVID-19 across the United States. April is also Adrenal Insufficiency Awareness month, a good time to review the data on how COVID-19 infection can impact the adrenal glands.

The adrenal glands make hormones to help regulate blood pressure and the ability to respond to stress. The hormones include steroids such as glucocorticoid (cortisol), mineralocorticoid (aldosterone), and forms of adrenaline known as catecholamines (norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine). The activity of the adrenal gland is controlled through its relationship with the pituitary gland (the master regulator of hormones in the body).

Some common adrenal diseases include the following:

  • Addison’s Disease (where the body attacks the adrenal glands making them dysfunctional)
  • Hyperaldosteronism
  • Cushing’s Syndrome
  • Pheochromocytoma
  • Adrenal Nodules/Masses (termed incidentaloma)
  • Congenital adrenal hyperplasia

COVID-19 was found in the adrenal and pituitary glands of some patients who succumbed to the illness, suggesting that these organs might be among the targets for infection.  One of the first highly effective therapies for COVID-19 infection was the use of IV steroid (dexamethasone) supplementation in hospitalized patients in patients requiring oxygen.

A focused search of COVID-19-related health literature shows 85 peer-reviewed papers that have been published in medical literature specifically on the adrenal gland and COVID-19. This literature focuses on three phases of COVID infection that may impact the adrenal gland: the acute active infection phase, the immediate post-infection phase, and the long-term recovery phase.

Medical research has identified that during the acute active infection, the adrenal system is one of the most heavily affected organ systems in the body in patients who have COVID-19 infection requiring hospitalization. In these cases, supplementation with the steroid dexamethasone serves as one of the most powerful lifesaving treatments.

Concern has also been raised regarding the period of time just after the acute infection phase – particularly, the development of adrenal insufficiency following cases of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Additionally, some professional societies recommend that for patients who have adrenal insufficiency and are on adrenal replacement therapy, they be monitored closely post-COVID-19 vaccine for the development of stress-induced adrenal insufficiency.

In mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases, there does not seem to be an effect on adrenaline-related hormones (norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine). However, in cases of severe COVID-19 infection triggering the development of shock, patients will need supplementation with an infusion of catecholamines and a hormone called vasopressin to maintain their blood pressure.

Finally, some studies have addressed the concern of adrenal insufficiency during the long-term recovery phase. Dr Sara Bedrose, adrenal endocrine specialist at  Baylor College of Medicine, indicates that studies which included adrenal function in COVID survivors showed a large percentage of patients with suboptimal cortisol secretion during what is called ACTH stimulation testing.

Results indicated that most of those cases had central adrenal insufficiency. It was concluded that adrenal insufficiency might be among the long-term consequences of COVID-19 and it seemed to be secondary to pituitary gland inflammation (called hypophysitis) or due to direct hypothalamic damage. Long-term follow-up of COVID 19 survivors will be necessary to exclude a gradual and late-onset adrenal insufficiency.

Some patients who have COVID-19 will experience prolonged symptoms. To understand what is happening to them, patients may question whether or not they have a phenomenon called adrenal fatigue. This is a natural question to ask, especially after having such a severe health condition. A tremendous amount of resources are being developed to investigate the source and treatment of the symptoms, and this work has only just begun.

However, adrenal fatigue is not a real medical diagnosis. It’s a term to describe a group of signs and symptoms that arise due to underactive adrenal glands. Current scientific data indicate that adrenal fatigue is not in and of itself a medical disease – although a variety of over-the-counter supplements and compounded medications may be advocated for in treatment by alternative medicine/naturopathic practitioners.

My takeaway is that we have learned a great deal about the effects COVID-19 infection has on the adrenal glands. Long-term COVID-19 remains an area to be explored –  especially in regards to how it may affect the adrenal glands.

-By Dr. James Suliburk, associate professor of surgery in the Division of Surgical Oncology and section chief of endocrine surgery for the Thyroid and Parathyroid Center at Baylor College of Medicine

From https://blogs.bcm.edu/2021/04/22/how-does-covid-19-impact-the-adrenal-gland/

Outcomes of endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery for Cushing’s disease

Abstract

Background

Transsphenoidal surgery (TSS) to resect an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary adenoma is the first-line treatment for Cushing’s disease (CD), with increasing usage of endoscopic transsphenoidal (ETSS) technique. The aim of this study was to assess remission rates and postoperative complications following ETSS for CD.

Methods

A retrospective analysis of a prospective single-surgeon database of consecutive patients with CD who underwent ETSS between January 2012–February 2020. Post-operative remission was defined, according to Endocrine Society Guidelines, as a morning serum cortisol < 138 nmol/L within 7 days of surgery, with improvement in clinical features of hypercortisolism. A strict cut-off of < 50 nmol/L at day 3 post-op was also applied, to allow early identification of remission.

Results

A single surgeon (MJ) performed 43 ETSS in 39 patients. Pre-operative MRI localised an adenoma in 22 (56%) patients; 18 microadenoma and 4 macroadenoma (2 with cavernous sinus invasion). IPSS was carried out in 33 (85%) patients. The remission rates for initial surgery were 87% using standard criteria, 58% using the strict criteria (day 3 cortisol < 50 nmol/L). Three patients had an early repeat ETSS for persistent disease (day 3 cortisol 306-555 nmol/L). When the outcome of repeat early ETSS was included, the remission rate was 92% (36/39) overall. Remission rate was 94% (33/35) when patients with macroadenomas were excluded. There were no cases of CSF leakage, meningitis, vascular injury or visual deterioration. Transient and permanent diabetes insipidus occurred in 33 and 23% following first ETSS, respectively. There was one case of recurrence of CD during the follow-up period of 24 (4–79) months.

Conclusion

Endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery produces satisfactory remission rates for the primary treatment of CD, with higher remission rates for microadenomas. A longer follow-up period is required to assess recurrence rates. Patients should be counselled regarding risk of postoperative diabetes insipidus.

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Introduction

With an estimated annual incidence of 1.7 per million [1], Cushing’s disease is rare. Untreated, it poses serious complications including osteoporosis, hypertension, dyslipidaemia, insulin resistance, and hypercoagulability [2] and is associated with a 4.8 fold increase in mortality rate [3,4,5]. Patients who are in remission from CD have a mortality rate which decreases towards (although not reaching) that of the general population [6]. Endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery (ETSS) offers patients potential remission from Cushing’s disease, although long term surveillance is required as recurrence rates range from 5 to 22%% [7,8,9,10,11,12].

Since the first report in 1997 [13], the selective removal of an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary adenoma by endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery has gained popularity as the first line treatment for Cushing’s disease. The primary goal of ETSS treatment in Cushing’s disease is to produce disease remission and to provide long-term control, while minimising complications. Remission rates are dependent on tumour size, preoperative MRI, cavernous sinus invasion, intraoperative visualisation of the tumour and pre- and postoperative ACTH and cortisol concentration [11]. Several studies also report pituitary neurosurgeon experience as a major factor for operative success [21415].

Reported remission and recurrence rates after TSS for CD vary widely according to the criteria utilised to define remission [11], and in some studies due to limited patient numbers or short follow-up periods. Indeed, there is no clear consensus on how best to define post-operative remission; an early morning serum cortisol concentration < 138 nmol/L (5μg/dl) within 7 days of TSS is quoted in the 2015 Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline as indicative of remission [16]. A more strict day 3 cut-off of 50 nmol/L (1.8 μg/dl) has been reported in paediatric studies [17], and also included in the Endocrine Society Guideline [16]; the literature suggests this cut-off is associated with remission, and a low recurrence rate of approximately 10% at 10 years [14]. The main objective of this study was to assess the outcomes of endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery for Cushing’s disease in a tertiary pituitary centre; remission using two widely accepted criteria [16], recurrence and postoperative complications.

Methods

Study design

This is a retrospective analysis of a prospectively-maintained database of patients operated on by a single neurosurgeon (MJ), via image-guided endoscopic transsphenoidal approach for Cushing’s disease. Patient data was gathered over 8 years (January 2012 to February 2020) and identified from the institution’s prospective database. Clinical and biochemical data during the follow-up period was reviewed. Approval was granted by the Hospital Audit Committee.

Study population

Patients were screened for Cushing’s syndrome by the presence of typical clinical features, together with failure to adequately suppress cortisol to < 50 nmol/L following overnight dexamethasone suppression test (ONDST) and/or elevated late night salivary cortisol (LNSF) concentration and/or elevated 24 h urinary free cortisol measurements. As per standard guidelines, Cushing’s disease was diagnosed on the basis of elevated serum ACTH measurements, along with confirmatory hormone responses to peripheral corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) test and inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS). Patients with previous TSS prior to the study period were excluded.

Surgical procedure

A single neurosurgeon subspecialising in endoscopic pituitary and anterior skull base surgery, M.J, carried out all ETSS surgical procedures. The surgical technique has been described in detail in publications by Cappabianca et al. (1998, 1999) and Jho et al. (1997, 2000, 2001) [1318,19,20,21]. In summary, the procedure consists of a binostril endoscopic transsphenoidal approach. A selective adenomectomy was performed on patients with adenomas noted on pre-operative MRI. In cases of negative pre-operative MRI, exploration of the pituitary gland was performed. To confirm the diagnosis of ACTH-secreting adenoma or hyperplasia, all specimens removed underwent histopathological and immunohistochemical staining for pituitary hormones.

Postoperative assessment

Patients received empiric oral hydrocortisone on day 1 and on the morning of day 2 post-operatively, prior to assessment of 0800 h serum cortisol on day 3. A blood sample for serum cortisol was drawn at 0800 h on the morning of day 3, if clinically stable, prior to administration of hydrocortisone. The Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline define post-operative biochemical remission as morning serum cortisol < 138 nmol/L (5μg/dl) within 7 days postoperatively [16], ‘standard criteria’. In our institution, we also apply a biochemical cut-off of < 50 nmol/L (1.8 μg/dl) at day 3 postoperatively to allow early indication of biochemical remission, ‘strict criteria’. If serum cortisol on day 3 is 50–138 nmol/L, serial measurements are taken daily to determine if cortisol will fall further, and assessment for improvement/resolution of clinical sequalae of hypercortisolaemia made (such as improvement in blood pressure or glycaemic control), before repeat endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery is considered.

Transient cranial diabetes insipidus (DI) was defined as the development of hypotonic polyuria postoperatively requiring at least one dose of desmopressin [22], which resolved prior to discharge. Permanent DI was confirmed by water deprivation test according to standard criteria [23]. Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) deficiency was defined by low fT4 with either low or inappropriately normal TSH. Growth hormone (GH) deficiency was confirmed using either Insulin Tolerance Test or Glucagon Stimulation Test [24]. Gonadotrophin deficiency was defined in premenopausal women as amenorrhoea with inappropriately low FSH and LH concentration, and in postmenopausal patients as inappropriately low FSH and LH concentration.

Recovery of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis was assessed by short synacthen (250 μg) test or insulin tolerance test 3 months post-operatively, and every 3–6 months thereafter in cases of initial fail or borderline result. Patients were assessed annually for recurrence of Cushing’s disease, recurrence was defined by failure to suppress cortisol to < 50 nmol/L following an 1 mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test, an elevated late night salivary cortisol (LNSF) or urinary free cortisol (UFC) in patients no longer taking hydrocortisone.

Laboratory analysis

Prior to 2019, serum cortisol was measured using a chemiluminescent immunoassay with the Beckman Coulter UniCel Dxl 800. Intra-assay CV for serum cortisol was 8.3, 5 and 4.6% at concentrations of 76, 438 and 865 nmol/L, respectively. From January 2019 onwards, serum cortisol was measured using Elecsys® Cortisol II assay on the Roche Cobas e801; intra-assay precision for serum cortisol was 1.2, 1.1 and 1.6% at concentrations of 31.8, 273 and 788 nmol/L, respectively.

Statistics

Data are expressed as median (range) and number (%). The Fishers Exact test was used to compare categorical variables between groups. All p-values were considered statistically significant at a level < 0.05. Statistical analysis was performed using GraphPad Prism 8 statistical software (GraphPad Software, La Jolla, California, USA).

Results

Demographics

Forty-three endoscopic transsphenoidal procedures were performed in 39 patients. Demographics are summarised in Table 1. Median (range) age was 37 years (8–75), 30 were female. Median (range) duration of symptoms was 24 months (6–144), 72% (28/39) had hypertension, and 28% (11/39) had type 2 diabetes.

Table 1 Summary of demographics and post-operative outcomes

Preoperative imaging and IPSS

Pre-operative MRI localised an adenoma in 22 (56%) patients; 18 microadenoma and 4 macroadenoma (2 with cavernous sinus invasion). No adenoma was identified in 17 patients (44%). IPSS was carried out in 33 (85%) patients.

Postoperative remission

Post-operative outcomes are summarised in Table 1 and Fig. 1. Using standard criteria (0800 h serum cortisol < 138 nmol/l within 7 days of operation and improvement in clinical features of hypercortisolism), postoperative remission rates for initial surgery were 87% (34/39) for the entire group and 89% (31/35) when patients with macroadenomas were excluded, Fig. 1. Three patients had an early repeat ETSS for persistent disease; day 3 serum cortisol ranged from 306 to 555 nmol/L and interval to repeat ETSS from 10 days–3 months. When the outcome of early repeat ETSS was factored in, overall remission rate was 92% (36/39) overall, and 94% (33/35) when patients with macroadenomas were excluded.

Fig. 1
figure1

Schema of patients who underwent ETSS. *Day 3 cortisol was not measured in one patient due to intercurrent illness requiring treatment with intravenous glucocorticoids

Using strict criteria of early remission (day 3 serum cortisol concentration < 50 nmol/L), postoperative remission rates were 58% (22/38) overall, and 62% (21/34) excluding macroadenomas. Including the three patients with early repeat ETSS, remission rate was 61% (23/38) overall, and 65% excluding macroadenomas (22/34). Day 3 cortisol was not measured in one patient due to intercurrent illness requiring treatment with intravenous glucocorticoids.

Eleven patients (28%) had a cortisol measurement between 50 and 138 nmol/L on day 3, seven of whom had received metyrapone therapy prior to ETSS. Six patients had serial measurements of 0800 h cortisol up to a maximum follow-up of 14 days post-op, serum cortisol concentration fell after day 3 in all six patients. Ten (91%) were glucocorticoid-dependent at 3 months based on synacthen/ITT; 0800 h cortisol had fallen to < 50 nmol/L in six patients.

Predictors of remission

No statistical difference was found in the rates of remission in those patients with or without tumour target on preoperative MRI, using either strict criteria for remission (12/21 target vs 10/17 no target, p > 0.99) or standard criteria (19/22 target vs 15/17 no target, p > 0.99). Similar results were found when the four patients with macroadenoma were excluded.

Persistent disease

Five patients (13%) had persistent hypercortisolaemia after the initial endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery (Table 2). Three patients underwent a repeat early endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery, Fig. 1. Remission rate after repeat early ETSS was 67% (2/3) using standard criteria, and 33% (1/3), using the strict criteria. Of the patients with persistent disease following repeat ETSS, one received radiosurgery, while the other has been commenced on medical therapy, with a view to refer for radiotherapy.

Table 2 Outcome of five patients with persistent hypercortisolaemia after initial ETSS

Postoperative complications

The rate of transient diabetes insipidus after first ETSS was 33% (13/39), while permanent diabetes insipidus occurred in 23% (9/39). Postoperatively, there were five cases of new thyroid stimulating hormone deficiency (13%) and four cases of gonadotrophin deficiency (10%) (in pre-menopausal females). There were no cases of postoperative CSF leak, no cases of meningitis and no visual complications. There were no other complications.

Recurrence

No patients were lost to follow-up. Over a median (range) duration of follow-up of 24 (4–79) months, one patient had recurrence of Cushing’s disease. Pre-operative MRI had shown a macroadenoma; serum cortisol on day 3 after the initial ETSS was 71 nmol/L, which fulfilled standard criteria for remission, but not the more strict criteria. The patient underwent a second ETSS 13 months later. No tumour was visible intra-operatively so no tissue was removed, day 3 serum cortisol concentration was 308 nmol/L and the patient was commenced on a trial of metyrapone.

Recovery of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis

Recovery of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis occurred in nine patients (27%), at median 13 (3–27) months post-operatively. There was no statistical difference in rates of recovery of HPA axis in patients with day 3 cortisol < 50 nmol/l, and those who only passed standard criteria for remission (< 138 nmol/l) [7/20 (follow-up 25 (3–59) months) versus 2/11 (follow-up 16 (3–79) months) respectively, p = 0.43]. One patient died 5 weeks post-operatively; post-mortem revealed bilateral haemorrhagic adrenal necrosis.

Discussion

Reported remission rates following ETSS in patients with Cushing’s disease (CD) vary widely, predominantly due to differences in criteria used to define remission [11]. There is no uniform consensus on the criteria used to define ‘remission’, with institutions using a combination of biochemical and clinical criteria; this makes comparing surgical outcome studies challenging. The normal corticotroph cells of the pituitary gland are suppressed due to sustained hypercortisolaemia, therefore following successful removal of the ACTH-secreting adenoma, serum ACTH and cortisol concentrations should fall postoperatively. A morning serum cortisol concentration < 138 nmol/L (5 μg/dl) within 7 days of ETSS is usually indicative of remission, and this biochemical cut-off is quoted in the Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline [16], and many surgical outcome studies [81125]. Other studies have applied a more strict serum cortisol cut-off of < 50 nmol/L (1.8 μg/L) at day 3 postoperatively to allow early indication of biochemical remission [101126,27,28]; the literature suggests this cutoff is associated with remission, and a low recurrence rate of approximately 10% at 10 years [14]. Our practice is to apply this latter approach; if serum cortisol on day 3 is 50–138 nmol/L, serial measurements are taken daily to determine if cortisol will fall further, and assessment for improvement/resolution of clinical signs of hypercortisolaemia made, before repeat endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery is considered. It is important to ensure that serum cortisol has reached a nadir, before further intervention is considered.

In this single-centre single-surgeon study, we report two very different remission rates using these two widely accepted criteria. Our remission rate, including those patients who had an early second ETSS, using standard guidelines, is 92%, on par with other larger studies [78112529]. When patients with corticotroph macroadenomas were excluded, the remission rate was even higher at 94%. In comparison, when we applied the more strict criteria of day 3 cortisol < 50 nmol/L, the remission rate was considerably lower at 61%. This criteria is in place in our institution so that we can safely identify patients who have early signs of remission to facilitate discharge on day 3 post-operatively; however reporting these rates in isolation lead to a misleadingly low remission rate compared to the more lenient criteria proposed by the Endocrine Society [16].

Evidence has suggested that higher day 3 cortisol concentration is associated with greater risk of recurrence of CD. A recent retrospective cohort analysis of 81 ETSS for CD by Mayberg et al. reported significantly higher recurrence rates in patients with post-operative cortisol nadir between 58 and 149 nmol/L (2.1–5.4 μg/dL) compared with those with cortisol < 55 nmol/L (2 μg/dL) (33% vs 6%, p = 0.01) [30]. Recurrence of CD was low in our series at 3%, and occurred in a patient with a corticotroph macroadenoma, which have been shown to be associated with higher rates of recurrence [31]. On post-operative assessment, serum cortisol fell between the two criteria for remission and if remission was strictly defined as a day 3 cortisol < 50 nmol/L, then this patient had in fact persistent hypercortisolaemia. This case highlights the difficulty when comparing studies reporting ETSS outcomes in CD – the distinction between persistent post-operative hypercortisolism and early recurrence of CD is not always clear-cut, and is dictated by the local protocol.

Whilst our recurrence data are encouraging in comparison to other reports on CD recurrence, which published rates of up to 22% [11], longer term follow-up is necessary before recurrence rates can be accurately defined. The criteria used to define long term recurrence of CD also varies widely in the literature; a large systematic review (n = 6400) by Petersenn et al. (2015) reported decreased recurrence rates when studies used UFC with ONDST vs. UFC only, and UFC with morning serum cortisol vs. UFC only [11]. This highlights the requirement for standardization of remission and recurrence criteria, for consistency in clinical practice and in the literature.

The post-operative surgical complication rate in our series was very low, with no cases of CSF leak, vascular injury or visual compromise. Other published case series have reported incidence rates for CSF leakage and meningitis of 0–7.2% and 0–7.9% [2123233] respectively. Postoperative meningitis is strongly associated with CSF leakage [34]. Some studies suggest that the endoscopic approach results in higher rates of carotid artery injury compared with the microscopic approach, which could be attributed to the nature of the extended lateral approach [35]. However, in this series of 43 ETSS, we report no cases of surgical related carotid artery injury, similar to other studies reporting 0% serious morbidity or mortality due to carotid artery injury [3336]. Finally, postoperative visual disturbance is a major concern, as it can be life changing for patients. Factors linked with visual complications include tumour size, patient age and any pre-existing visual conditions [37,38,39]. Visual deterioration after TSS for Cushing’s disease has been reported to occur in some large case series at rates of 1.9% [32] and 0.86% [12]. There were no cases of postoperative visual disturbance in our series.

While the surgical complication rate was low, our endocrine complication rate was higher than that reported in other studies, particularly the rate of DI. Transient DI occurred in 33% of cases, and permanent DI in 23%. These relatively high rates of transient DI may be due to the diagnostic criteria used in our protocol; we defined transient post-operative DI as one episode of hypotonic polyuria in the setting of normal or elevated plasma sodium concentration, requiring at least one dose of desmopressin. In contrast, some studies discount any polyuria which lasts less than 2 days [10], while others require the documentation of hypernatremia for the diagnosis of DI [40]. These more stringent criteria will not capture cases of mild transient DI; therefore it is not surprising that the rates of transient DI reported in a 2018 meta-analysis were lower than that in our study, 11.3% [29]. The rates of permanent DI in our study merits particular attention. TSS for CD has been shown to be associated with a higher risk of post-operative DI [4142]. It may be that a more aggressive surgical approach resulted in high remission rates, but at a cost of higher rates of DI. All patients are reviewed post-operatively in the National Pituitary Centre, where there is a low threshold for water deprivation testing and/or 3% saline testing. We did not routinely re-test patients for resolution of DI after their initial water deprivation test at 3 months, and it is possible that some cases subsequently resolved after 3 months [4143]. Regardless, the rate reported in this study is significant, and emphasises the importance of counselling the patient about the risk of DI long-term.

Strengths and limitations

The reporting of two remission rates based on widely accepted criteria is a strength of this study, and allows for direct comparison of our outcomes with other studies. All ETSS were performed by a single pituitary surgeon; while this removes bias from surgeon experience, the disadvantage of this is that the sample size is relatively low. Furthermore, because we included patients who were recently operated on to maximise numbers for analysis of surgical complications, the follow-up period is relatively short. A longer follow-up is required to comment accurately on recurrence of CD. We did not have full ascertainment of longitudinal post-operative data including dexamethasone suppression tests, and this has highlighted the need for protocolised follow-up to allow for consistency when reporting our results.

Conclusion

Endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery in patients with Cushing’s disease offers excellent remission rates and low morbidity. Remission rates are much higher when standard criteria [morning serum cortisol < 138 nmol/L (5μg/dl) within 7 days postoperatively] are used compared with day 3 cortisol < 50 nmol/l. Higher remission rates were found for patients with microadenomas. Patients should be counselled regarding risk of post-operative endocrine deficiencies, in particular permanent diabetes insipidus. Longer follow-up is required to accurately assess recurrence rates.

Availability of data and materials

The data that support the findings of this study are not publicly available due to restrictions by General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Abbreviations

TSS:
Transsphenoidal surgery
ACTH:
Adrenocorticotropic hormone
CD:
Cushing’s disease
ETSS:
Endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery
ONDST:
Overnight dexamethasone suppression test
LNSF:
Late night salivary cortisol
CRH:
Corticotropin releasing hormone
IPSS:
Inferior petrosal sinus sampling
DI:
Diabetes insipidus
TSH:
Thyroid stimulating hormone
GH:
Growth hormone
UFC:
Urinary free cortisol

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