Temozolomide Effective Against Cushing’s Caused by Aggressive Tumors

The oral chemotherapy temozolomide might be an effective treatment for Cushing’s disease caused by aggressive tumors in the pituitary gland that continue to grow after surgery and taking other medications, a case report suggests.

The study, “Successful reduction of ACTH secretion in a case of intractable Cushing’s disease with pituitary Crooke’s cell adenoma by combined modality therapy including temozolomide,” was published in the journal J-Stage.

Cushing’s disease is often caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland that secretes high levels of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), leading to high levels of cortisol and other symptoms.

Macroadenomas are aggressive, fast-growing tumors that reach sizes larger than 10 millimeters. Crooke’s cell adenoma is a type of macroadenoma that does not respond to conventional therapies, but has deficient mechanisms of DNA repair. That is why chemotherapeutic agents that damage the DNA, such as temozolomide, might be potential treatments.

Researchers in Japan reported the case of a 56-year-old woman with Cushing’s disease caused by a Crooke’s cell adenoma in the pituitary gland who responded positively to temozolomide.

The patient was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease at age 39 when she went to the hospital complaining of continuous weight gain. She also had excessive production of urine and a loss of vision in the right eye.

The lab tests showed high levels of cortisol and ACTH, and the MRI detected a tumor of 4.5 centimeters in the pituitary gland. The doctors removed a part of the tumor surgically, which initially reduced the levels of ACTH and cortisol.

However, the hormone levels and the size of the residual tumor started to increase gradually after the surgery, despite treatment with several medications.

By the time the patient was 56 years old, she went to the hospital complaining of general fatigue, leg edema (swelling from fluid), high blood pressure, and central obesity (belly fat).

Further examination showed a 5.7 cm tumor, identified as a Crooke’s cell macroadenoma. The patient underwent a second surgery to remove as much tumor as possible, but the levels of ACTH remained high. She took temozolomide for nine months, which normalized the levels of ACTH and cortisol. After the treatment, the patient no longer had high blood pressure or leg edema.

The tumor shrunk considerably in the year following temozolomide treatment. The patient started radiation therapy to control tumor growth. The levels of cortisol and ACHT remained normal, and the tumor did not grow in the seven years following temozolomide treatment.

“These clinical findings suggest that [temozolomide] treatment to patients with Crooke’s cell adenoma accompanied with elevated ACTH may be a good indication to induce lowering ACTH levels and tumor shrinkage,” researchers wrote.

Other cases of Cushing’s disease caused by aggressive macroadenomas showed positive results, such as reduction of tumor size and decrease in plasma ACTH, after temozolomide treatment. However, more studies are needed to establish the ideal course of chemotherapy to treat these tumors, the researchers noted.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2019/06/18/temozolomide-effective-cushings-disease-aggressive-tumors-case-report/

8 medical conditions that could cause sudden weight gain

Weight gain can be associated with hormonal conditions, mood disorders, or other physiological factors. A sudden and unexplained weight gain could be your body’s way of signalling an underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed. For the sake of health and long-term well-being, it is important to differentiate between a few harmless extra kilos and a fluctuation that could be hiding a bigger problem. You can only be certain after consulting a healthcare practitioner.

If the weighing scale says your numbers are up but you haven’t changed your eating and exercise habits, you might consider any of the 8 medical conditions:

1.     Hypothyroidism The American Thyroid Association reveals that one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid. The thyroid controls several body functions and your metabolism is one of them. If you’re not producing enough thyroid hormone your body can’t burn as much energy. Symptoms appear throughout your system. They include: weight gain, exhaustion, drier skin, thinner hair, bloating, muscle weakness, constantly feeling cold, and constipation. Once diagnosis is confirmed a doctor can prescribe an oral replacement for thyroid hormone that can relieve symptoms within weeks.

2.     Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) One in 10 women of childbearing age undergoes PCOS. It is an endocrine disorder characterised by an imbalance in the sex hormones oestrogen and testosterone.  This results in irregular periods, acne and even facial hair growth. The disorder also disrupts the way the body uses insulin — which is the hormone responsible for converting carbohydrates into energy. As a result the sugars and starches you consume are stored as fat instead of energy, thus, weight gain. PCOS has no cure but women who have it can manage their symptoms with lifestyle changes and medication. A doctor’s consultation will help you find an appropriate method.

3. Insomnia Avoid fake news! Subscribe to the Standard SMS service and receive factual, verified breaking news as it happens. Text the word ‘NEWS’ to 22840 Sleep deprivation can negatively impact both your metabolism and your hunger hormones. Sleeping too little increases ghrelin, the hormone that signals the body that it’s time to eat, while lowering leptin, the hormone that says you are full. The result: increased cravings and snacking to get more energy through the day. Insomnia increases impulsive eating. A 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the right amount of sleep could mean consuming up to 10 fewer grams of sugar throughout the day.

4.     Tumours Weight gain around your belly as opposed to your lower body or other areas can be more dangerous to your health. Large pelvic area tumours like uterine or ovarian tumours can inflate the abdomen the way excess fat does. In some cases they can also be cancerous. In addition to weight gain, symptoms of ovarian or uterine tumours include vaginal bleeding, lower back pain, constipation and painful intercourse. But these signs are common for other conditions as well so it‘s worth confirming with a doctor to rule out any possible complications.

5. Peri menopause and menopause Perimenopause -the transition period to menopause can start as early as a woman’s mid-thirties, but usually starts in their forties. This period triggers hormones like oestrogen to rise and fall unevenly, which can cue weight gain in some women. Genetics are a good starting point on how your body experiences these changes, so it would be helpful to look into how it affected your mother and other older women in your family. Other signs of perimenopause are mood swings, irregular periods, hot flashes, and changes in libido. Age also contributes to loss of muscle mass and increase in body fat. An Ob-Gyn should be able to talk you through these changes and recommend management options.

6.     Mood disorders Depression and anxiety can result in fatigue, lack of focus and irritability. Some people cope with anxious or sad feelings by mindlessly munching on food they don’t really need. Additionally chronic stress throws your body into fight-or-flight mode, leading to a surge of adrenaline, as well as a heavy dose of the hormone cortisol –responsible for restoring energy reserves and storing fat.

7. Cushing syndrome Sometimes tumours on the pituitary or adrenal glands can contribute to a condition known as Cushing’s disease which is characterised by high levels of cortisol in the blood. Taking long term steroids could also result in this disease. Patients with Cushing syndrome will experience rapid weight gain in the face, abdomen and chest. They also display slender arms and legs compared to the heavy weight in the core of the body. Other symptoms include: high blood pressure, mood swings, osteoporosis, discoloured stretch marks, acne, and fragile skin. Depending on the cause, Cushing‘s disease can be treated in a different ways.

8. New medication Before starting on any new prescription medication, ask your doctor if weight gain is a possible side effect. Birth control pills may lead to weight gain depending on the brand, dosage, and the person’s hormonal levels. Psychiatric medications, especially for depression and bipolar disorder, have been known to cause weight gain, as they target the brain. Similarly, taking insulin to manage diabetes or medications that treat high blood pressure can also lead to extra kilos, so staying active and sticking to a strict meal plan can help you take insulin without unnecessarily weight gain.

Adapted from https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/lifestyle/article/2001297348/8-medical-conditions-that-could-cause-sudden-weight-gain

Korlym: How an abortion pill turned out to be a treatment for a rare disease

Even though the $550 yellow pills sold as Korlym have a controversial origin as the abortion pill, Leslie Edwin said they “gave me life.”

The 40-year-old Georgia resident lives with Cushing’s syndrome, a potentially deadly condition that causes high levels of the hormone cortisol to wreak havoc on a body. When first diagnosed, she said, she gained about 100 pounds, her blood sugars were “out of control,” and she suffered acne, the inability to sleep and constant anxiety.

“I wouldn’t leave the house,” Edwin said of her first bout with the condition. “I quit my job after a certain point. I just couldn’t keep being in front of people.”

That’s when Edwin endured surgeries, including one to remove her pituitary gland. She went into remission, but then, in 2016, her weight shot up 30 pounds and the anxious feelings returned. Her doctors prescribed Korlym.

The drug’s active ingredient is mifepristone, once called RU-486 and better known as the abortion pill because it causes a miscarriage when taken early in a pregnancy. Nearly two decades ago, Danco Laboratories won approval to market Mifeprex in the United States as the abortion drug, with tight restrictions on use. Corcept Therapeutics, a Silicon Valley-based drug company, began marketing Korlym six years ago as a specialty drug for about 10,000 rare-disease patients such as Edwin.

The difference in price between Korlym and Mifeprex is striking, even though the ingredients are the same: One 200-milligram pill to prompt an abortion costs about $80. In contrast, a 300-milligram pill prescribed for Cushing’s runs about $550 before discounts. (Patients wanting an abortion take only one pill. People with Cushing’s often take up to three pills a day for months or years.)

Joseph Belanoff, chief executive of the drug’s maker, Corcept, said Korlym’s average cost per patient is $180,000 annually and concedes that “we have an expensive drug. There’s no getting around that.” But, he said, he believes Corcept has a “social contract” to take care of patients and pledged that any patient who is prescribed Korlym will get it regardless of insurance coverage or costs.

The story of Korlym highlights how America’s drug development system can turn an old drug into a new one that treats relatively few — but often very desperate — patients.

When the Food and Drug Administration approved Korlym in 2012, it was designated as an orphan drug, giving Corcept seven years of market exclusivity as well as other economic incentives. Congress approved orphan drug incentives to encourage the development of medicines for rare diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 patients. Since the drug’s approval, Korlym’s price has risen about 150 percent, and last year the company’s revenue nearly doubled to $159.2 million and it reported a net income of $129.1 million. (Korlym is the company’s only product, and it treats about 1,000 patients in the United States.)

Belanoff said the profits from Korlym pay for the company’s past spending on the drug’s research and development as well as its effort to create new drugs. The company recently reported an encouraging Phase 2 trial update on Korlym’s successor, relacorilant, a drug that could treat Cushing’s without the side effects for some women of endometrial thickening and vaginal bleeding that can occur with Korlym.

The company’s pipeline is also full of potential oncology drugs that hold the promise of using molecules to influence the cortisol receptors, with wide-ranging effects in the body. Korlym in combination with another drug is being tested for the treatment of metastatic triple-negative breast cancer, which tends to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer. And relacorilant is in the very early stages of testing to treat castration-resistant prostate cancer.

While many of the second-generation drugs are not related to Korlym structurally, Korlym did “provide the funding. . . . If there had not been orphan-drug pricing and the [Orphan Drug] Act, you would have to look for a different way to develop those drugs,” Belanoff said.

Korlym came to market in 2012 with an average wholesale price of $223.20 per pill before discounts, according to the health-care technology firm Connecture. By December 2017, each pill had an average wholesale price of $549.60 before any discounts or rebates were negotiated for patients.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries recently announced it had filed an application to produce a generic version of the drug. Teva declined to comment for this report.

A ‘pioneering substance’

Cushing’s syndrome happens when the body produces too much cortisol, which normally helps keep the cardiovascular system functioning well and allows the body to turn proteins, carbohydrates and fats into energy. But too much cortisol can be destructive. It can cause cognitive difficulties, depression, fatigue, high blood pressure, bone loss and, in some cases, Type 2 diabetes. Those affected by the syndrome can develop a fatty hump between their shoulders and a rounded face. Without treatment, patients can die of a variety of complications, including sepsis after the hormone compromises the immune system.

Mifepristone, the active ingredient in Korlym, helps Cushing’s patients by blocking the body’s ability to process cortisol. It induces an abortion by blocking another of the body’s receptors, for progesterone, which causes the uterine wall to break down and the pregnancy to end.

When the FDA approved Korlym for a specific set of Cushing’s patients, the agency required a “TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY” warning box at the top of the label.

Endocrinologist Constantine Stratakis, scientific director at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, who specializes in treating people with Cushing’s syndrome, calls mifepristone a “pioneering substance” because it “has a lot of crossover” to other receptors in the body.

That means the drug has a lot of potential uses. Belanoff and Alan Schatzberg, a Stanford University psychiatrist and scientist, co-founded Corcept in 1998 to explore whether mifepristone could help treat major depression. In 2002, Schatzberg said the drug “may be the equivalent of shock treatments in a pill.” But clinical trials were not successful.

Social contract

By 2007, Corcept had found another possibility and filed an application to see whether mifepristone might work for Cushing’s patients.

Developing the drug cost about $300 million, according to Belanoff, and involved long-term toxicology tests to ensure that patients could safely take high doses for months or years. Korlym is approved to treat Cushing’s patients who have failed to relieve their symptoms through surgery or do not qualify for surgery, so some patients expect to take it for the rest of their lives while others just a few months.

Most patients are covered by private insurance, Belanoff said, but Medicare and Medicaid pay for the drug as well. According to Medicare Part D data, 52 Korlym patients cost Medicare $2.6 million in 2013. Two years later, 115 beneficiaries filed claims of $11.4 million.

Edwin is on private insurance and describes herself as being in “a really high tax bracket,” yet she never paid more than $25 a month through Corcept’s patient assistance program . She stopped taking the drug last year after her Cushing’s symptoms retreated.

“Across the board, it would be very difficult to find any patient that pays the full price,” said Edwin, who volunteers as president of the nonprofit patient advocacy group Cushing’s Support and Research Foundation.

The small organization, which reported $50,000 in contributions and grants in 2015, notes on its website that Corcept as well as Novartis Oncology provide financial support to the organization. The group’s federal tax filing details that the majority of its expenses go to distributing a quarterly newsletter, contacting members and patients “to promote mission,” and referring patients to doctors.

Specialty drugs such as Korlym often have sky-high price tags and are often distributed through special pharmacy programs. Drug companies commonly work with insurers and patient assistance programs to lower the patient’s out-of-pocket costs.

But for Corcept, the effort to brand the drug as a Cushing’s medication was also important, Belanoff said: “We were starting with a notorious drug.”

“There is a real infrastructure in caring for these patients,” he said. “It is not just like getting your medicine at [a drug store] and figuring out what to do with it.”

Sherwin D’Souza, an internal medicine doctor at St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center in Idaho, prescribed Korlym for the first time last year to Vonda Huddleston, who was uninsured. D’Souza said he knew Corcept would provide financial assistance until Huddleston could get insurance to help pay for surgery to remove a tumor in her adrenal gland that is suspected of causing her high cortisol levels.

Huddleston, though, did not feel well on the drug and gained weight. D’Souza took her off Korlym and scheduled surgery. “I was sort of trying to buy time and treat her conditions,” D’Souza said. “It’s very expensive . . . but they do have a very good program for patients in need of the drug.”

Kaiser Health News

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doctors Use Microwave Therapy on Cushing’s Patient Too Weak to Have Surgery

Microwave therapy improved the Cushing’s syndrome of a woman whose lungs had almost failed, allowing her to have the adrenal surgery needed to control her disease, a case study showed.

Lung infections had led to her near-respiratory failure.

Cushing’s syndrome stems from the pituitary gland producing excessive amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone. Too much of the hormone leads to the adrenal glands generating excessive amounts of another hormone, cortisol — and that overproduction results in Cushing’s. The disease’s symptoms include increasing obesity, skin problems, muscle weakness, bone loss, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, and an inability to control emotions.

Doctors often remove patients’ adrenal glands to prevent cortisol production. But in this case, the patient was not in good enough condition to have the surgery. So doctors used microwave technology to reduce her cortisol levels to the point where surgeons could operate.

The case study, published in BMJ Case Reports, was titled “Ectopic ACTH syndrome complicated by multiple opportunistic infections treated with percutaneous ablation of the adrenal glands.

Excessive pituitary gland production of adrenocorticotropic hormone is the cause of 80 percent of Cushing’s cases.

In 5 to 10 percent of cases, a tumor in another part of the body also produces the hormone, leading to excessive amounts of it in the body. When a tumor is generating the hormone, the condition is called ectopic ACTH syndrome. The patient in the case study had ACTH syndrome.

The 63-year-old woman had complained to her family doctor about weight gain, headache, weakness, and flushing. When laboratory tests led to her being diagnosed with ectopic ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome, she was admitted to a hospital’s internal medicine department.

Doctors planned surgery to remove her adrenal glands, but two days before the operation was scheduled, respiratory failure sent her to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. There, physicians treated her for two infections in her lungs, plus infections in her blood and urinary tract. She experienced serious medical complications while in the Intensive Care Unit.

After a month, she was in good enough condition to leave intensive chair but too frail for surgery. Instead, doctors used microwaves to destroy as much of her adrenal glands as they could.

Within two weeks, her condition was better. She had been unable to leave her hospital bed while in intensive care. After the microwave treatment, she engaged in physiotherapy that led to her being able to use a two-wheeled walker to go short distances. She could also make short excursions outside the hospital with her family.

Six months later she returned to the hospital for surgical removal of her adrenal glands.

There were no complications from the operation, and doctors discharged her two days later. Her cortisol levels have been at acceptable levels since then.

“Our experience demonstrates that percutaneous ablation is a viable alternative in patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome in whom medical therapy has failed and surgical adrenalectomy is not feasible,” the researchers wrote. “Further research comparing the efficacy and complication rates between percutaneous ablation [microwave therapy] and surgical adrenalectomy is needed.” In addition, “research is needed to determine the optimal method of percutaneous intervention,” the team wrote.

From https://cushingsdiseasenews.com/2017/12/01/case-study-shows-microwave-therapy-helped-cushings-patient-who-was-too-frail-for-surgery/

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