Cushing’s Patients at Risk for Autoimmune Diseases After Condition Is Resolved

Children with Cushing’s syndrome are at risk of developing new autoimmune and related disorders after being cured of the disease, a new study shows.

The study, “Incidence of Autoimmune and Related Disorders After Resolution of Endogenous Cushing Syndrome in Children,” was published in Hormone and Metabolic Research.

Patients with Cushing’s syndrome have excess levels of the hormone cortisol, a corticosteroid that inhibits the effects of the immune system. As a result, these patients are protected from autoimmune and related diseases. But it is not known if the risk rises after their disease is resolved.

To address this, researchers at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) examined 127 children with Cushing’s syndrome at the National Institutes of Health from 1997 until 2017.

Among the participants, 77.5 percent had a pituitary tumor causing the disease, 21.7 percent had ACTH-independent disease, and one patient had ectopic Cushing’s syndrome. All patients underwent surgery to treat their symptoms.

After a mean follow-up of 31.2 months, 7.8 percent of patients developed a new autoimmune or related disorder.

Researchers found no significant differences in age at diagnosis, gender, cortisol levels, and urinary-free cortisol at diagnosis, when comparing those who developed autoimmune disorders with those who didn’t. However, those who developed an immune disorder had a significantly shorter symptom duration of Cushing’s syndrome.

This suggests that increased cortisol levels, even for a short period of time, may contribute to more reactivity of the immune system after treatment.

The new disorder was diagnosed, on average, 9.8 months after Cushing’s treatment. The disorders reported were celiac disease, psoriasis, Hashimoto thyroiditis, Graves disease, optic nerve inflammation, skin hypopigmentation/vitiligo, allergic rhinitis/asthma, and nerve cell damage of unknown origin responsive to glucocorticoids.

“Although the size of our cohort did not allow for comparison of the frequency with the general population, it seems that there was a higher frequency of optic neuritis than expected,” the researchers stated.

It is still unclear why autoimmune disorders tend to develop after Cushing’s resolution, but the researchers hypothesized it could be a consequence of the impact of glucocorticoids on the immune system.

Overall, the study shows that children with Cushing’s syndrome are at risk for autoimmune and related disorders after their condition is managed. “The presentation of new autoimmune diseases or recurrence of previously known autoimmune conditions should be considered when concerning symptoms arise,” the researchers stated.

Additional studies are warranted to further explore this link and improve care of this specific population.


Benefits of Medication Before Surgery for Cushing’s Syndrome Still Unclear

In Europe, nearly 20 percent of patients with Cushing’s syndrome receive some sort of medication for the disease before undergoing surgery, a new study shows.

Six months after surgery, these patients had remission and mortality rates similar to those who received surgery as a first-line treatment, despite having worse disease manifestations when the study began. However, preoperative medication may limit doctors’ ability to determine the immediate success of surgery, researchers said.

A randomized clinical trial is needed to conclusively address if preoperative medication is a good option for Cushing’s patients waiting for surgery, they stated.

The study, “Preoperative medical treatment in Cushing’s syndrome. Frequency of use and its impact on postoperative assessment. Data from ERCUSYN,” was published in the European Journal of Endocrinology. 

Surgery usually is the first-line treatment in patients with Cushing’s syndrome. But patients also may receive preoperative medication to improve cortisol excess and correct severe diseases occurring simultaneously with Cushing’s.

Multiple studies have hypothesized that preoperative medication can have a beneficial effect on patients who undergo surgery. However, data on the beneficial impact of medication on morbidity, and the immediate surgical and long-term outcomes in patients with Cushing’s syndrome, are limited and inconclusive.

So, researchers made use of the European Registry on Cushing’s Syndrome (ERCUSYN), the largest database that collects information on diagnosis, management, and long-term follow-up in Cushing’s patients.

The team set out to collect information of the prevalence of preoperative medication in Cushing’s patients throughout Europe, and whether it influences patients’ outcomes after surgery. It also aimed to determine the differences between patients who receive preoperative medication versus those who undergo surgery directly.

Researchers analyzed 1,143 patients in the ERCUSYN database from 57 centers in 26 countries. Depending on what was causing the disease, patients were included in four major groups: pituitary-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (68%), adrenal-dependent Cushing’s syndrome (25%), Cushing’s syndrome from an ectopic source (5%), and Cushing’s syndrome from other causes (1%).

Overall, 20 percent of patients received medication – ketoconazole, metyrapone, or a combination of both – before surgery. Patients with ectopic and pituitary disease were more likely to receive medication compared to patients whose disease stemmed from the adrenal glands. Preoperative treatment lasted for a median of 109 days.

Patients in the pituitary group who were prescribed preoperative medication had more severe clinical features at diagnosis and poorer quality of life compared to those who received surgery as first-line treatment. No differences were found in the other groups.

But patients with pituitary-dependent disease receiving medication were more likely to have normal cortisol within seven days of surgery, or the immediate postoperative period, compared to patients who had surgery without prior medication. These patients also had a lower remission rate.

Within six months of surgery, however, there were no differences in morbidity or remission rates observed between each group. Also, no differences were seen in perioperative mortality rates – within one month of surgery.

Interestingly, researchers noted that patients who took medication prior to surgery were less likely to be in remission immediately after surgery. The reason, they suggest, might be because the medication already had begun to improve the clinical and biochemical signs of the disease, “so changes that take place in the first week after surgery may be less dramatic.”

“A randomized trial assessing simple endpoints, such as length of hospital stay, surgical impression and adverse effects of surgery, is needed to conclusively demonstrate that [preoperative medication] is a valid option in patients waiting for surgical correction of hypercortisolism,” the team concluded.


Endoscopic and Microscopic Surgery Equally Effective in Cushing’s Disease

Using endoscopic or microscopic techniques to surgically remove the pituitary glands leads to similar remission and recurrence rates in Cushing’s disease patients, a review of 24 studies shows.

The study, titled “Outcome of endoscopic vs microsurgical transsphenoidal resection for Cushing’s disease,” was published in the journal Endocrine Connections.

In endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery, a surgeon uses a tiny camera as a guide, allowing for a panoramic surgical view with increased illumination of anatomic structures. In microsurgical transsphenoidal resection, a surgeon views through a microscope and uses minute instruments or lasers. Both procedures are used in transsphenoidal (TS) surgery to remove pituitary gland tumors, the root cause of Cushing’s disease. In transsphenoidal surgery, a surgeon accesses the pituitary gland through the nose and sinuses.

While endoscopic surgery seems to lead to better patient outcomes, it was unclear before this study if it has any advantages in patients with Cushing’s disease.

To gain more insight into the remission and recurrence rates of both techniques, researchers examined a total of 24 studies that included 1,670 adult patients with Cushing’s syndrome. Of these patients, 702 underwent endoscopic TS, and 968 underwent microsurgical TS.

The study’s authors found that remission rates were similar in both groups. In the endoscopic group, an average of 79.7 percent of patients experienced remission versus 76.9 percent in the microscopic group.

Patients who underwent endoscopic surgery experienced recurrence less often than those who underwent microscopic surgery, with recurrence rates of 11 percent and 15.9 percent, respectively. But researchers pointed out that follow-up times in the studies varied, making comparisons unreliable.

When recurrence rates were calculated by person per year, which takes follow-up time into account, both groups had a recurrence rate of approximately 4 percent per person per year.

Previous studies have shown that complications following either type of surgery occurred at comparable rates. These complications include hypothyroidism (underactivity of the thyroid gland), diabetes insipidus (a condition characterized by increased thirst), CSF leakage (leakage of fluid that normally bathes the brain and spinal cord), visual defects, hypocortisolemia (low cortisol blood levels), and hypogonadism (little or no hormones produced by the sex glands).

“We found that overall remission proportion was the same in CD patients who underwent endoscopic TS compared to patients who underwent microscopic TS. However, patients treated with the endoscopic approach for micro-adenomas were more likely to achieve remission than those treated microsurgically. Patients treated endoscopically were less likely to experience recurrence; however, when follow-up time is taken into account, this advantage disappears,” the researchers concluded.



Pituitary Gland Resection May Help Manage Presumed Cushing’s Patients


The surgical removal of two-thirds of the pituitary gland is associated with high initial remission rates and low operative morbidity in patients with suspected Cushing’s disease, when no tumor is found on the gland during surgical exploration.

Cushing’s disease (CD) is caused by increased levels of glucocoticosteroids, such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), circulating in the blood.

In nearly 70 percent of cases this happens as a result of benign tumors on the pituitary gland, which produce excess ACTH. In these patients, the most effective and first-line treatment is surgical removal of the pituitary gland tumor.

During the diagnostic stage, clinicians use several methods to identify and localize the source of excessive ACTH. But these methods can fail, and the presence of a tumor in the pituitary is not always confirmed. If the tumor remains unidentified during surgical exploration, it falls to the surgeon’s discretion about how to manage their patients.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine provided an overview of their experience on the management of patients with presumed Cushing’s disease who underwent surgical treatment.

The study, “Negative surgical exploration in patients with Cushing’s disease: benefit of two-thirds gland resection on remission rate and a review of the literature,” was published in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

“The diagnosis and treatment of CD is one of the most challenging entities that pituitary neurosurgeons, endocrinologists, and pathologists face,” the researchers wrote. “The ability to make a correct diagnosis and deliver a high likelihood of remission after surgery relies heavily on the performance of a meticulous workup and rational surgical strategy.”

The team retrospectively analyzed all cases that had been referred to the Department of Neurosurgery of CU School of Medicine between 1989 and 2011 for a potential ACTH-secreting pituitary tumor.

During this period, 161 cases of Cushing’s patients who underwent surgical tumor resection were reported. In 22 patients, the surgeon was unable to detect a tumor.

In these cases the surgical team decided to remove two-thirds of the gland, with resection of the lateral and inferior portions of the pituitary. All 22 patients were treated using a consistent technique performed by a single surgeon.

Posterior tissue analysis confirmed that six of these patients had pituitary ACTH-secreting tumors. In the remaining 16 patients, no tumor was identified. In three patients the team believed that overproduction of ACTH could be due to an overgrowth of ACTH-secreting cells rather than expansion.

The team believes that these findings underscore the difficulty of accurately diagnosing very small pituitary tumors pre- and post-operatively.

The 22 patients were followed for a mean time of 98.9 months, or 8.2 years. No remissions were observed in the six patients who had ACTH-secreting tumors or in 12 of the remaining patients. Blood analysis in follow-up exams confirmed these patients had normal levels of glucocoticosteroids.

Four patients continued to show persistent elevated amounts of ACTH. Additional clinical evaluations revealed that two patients had ACTH-secreting lung tumors, and one patient was suspected of having an ACTH-secreting tumor on a brain region close to the pituitary. There was one case where the clinical team was unable to identify the origin of elevated ACTH.

Only three patients required hormone replacement after the two-thirds gland removal to overcome a newly detected hormone deficit. The approach used by the surgical team was, overall, found to be safe with no severe side effects reported.

“Currently, when the neurosurgeon is faced with the inability to identify a discrete adenoma intraoperatively, there is little uniformity in the literature as to how to proceed,” the team wrote. “We believe this [pituitary resection] approach will be useful to help guide surgeons in the operative treatment of this particularly difficult group of patients.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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