Endogenous hypercortisolism (Cushing’s syndrome) usually implies the presence of a pathologic condition caused by either an ACTH-secreting neoplasm or autonomous cortisol secretion from a benign or malignant adrenal neoplasm. However, sustained or intermittent hypercortisolism may also accompany many medical disorders that stimulate physiologic/non-neoplastic activation of the HPA axis (formerly known as pseudo-Cushing’s syndrome); these two entities may share indistinguishable clinical and biochemical features. A thorough history and physical examination is often the best (and sometimes only) way to exclude pathologic/neoplastic hypercortisolism. The presence of alcoholism, renal failure, poorly controlled diabetes and severe neuropsychiatric disorders should always raise suspicion that the presence of hypercortisolism may be related to physiologic/non-neoplastic Cushing’s syndrome. As late-night salivary cortisol and low-dose dexamethasone suppression have good sensitivity and negative predictive value, normal studies exclude Cushing’s syndrome of any form. However, these tests have imperfect specificity and additional testing over time with clinical follow-up is often needed. When there is persistent diagnostic uncertainty, secondary tests such as the DDAVP stimulation test and the dexamethasone-CRH test may provide evidence for the presence or absence of an ACTH-secreting tumor. This review will define and characterize the numerous causes of physiologic/non-neoplastic hypercortisolism and provide a rational clinical and biochemical approach to distinguish it from pathologic/neoplastic hypercortisolism (true Cushing’s syndrome).
Srividya Kidambi, Hershel Raff, and James W Findling
Cushing's syndrome (CS) is difficult to diagnose due to its nonspecific presentation. Diagnostic tests like 24-h urine free cortisol (UFC) and the overnight 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test (DST) lack sufficient sensitivity and specificity. Measurement of nocturnal salivary cortisol (NSC) is an accurate and reproducible test with a high sensitivity for CS. However, its performance in mild CS has not been reported. We present 11 cases of CS with normal or mildly elevated UFC in whom NSC was helpful in making a diagnosis.
Design and methods
All patients had at least one collection of 24-h UFC and NSC and eight had an overnight 1 mg DST. The number of NSC measurements per patient was determined by the clinical index of suspicion and the results of initial testing. Imaging studies included magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of pituitary or computer tomography scan of abdomen.
Only four out of eleven patients had elevations in UFC and none were >2 times the upper limit of normal. Seven out of eight had an abnormal DST. All patients had some elevated NSCs (14–100%). Out of eleven patients, six had an abnormality in the pituitary gland found by MRI and two out of eleven had adrenal masses. The remaining three had normal pituitary MRI but had inferior petrosal sinus (IPS) sampling indicating Cushing's disease. All patients had appropriate surgery, and histopathology of all except one was suggestive of either a cortisol-producing adrenal adenoma or an ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma.
Neither a normal UFC nor a normal NSC excludes mild CS. Multiple samples (urine/saliva) and DST are needed to make the diagnosis of mild CS.
Hershel Raff, Eric P Cohen, and James W Findling
The diagnosis of endogenous hypercortisolism (Cushing's syndrome) is extremely challenging. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) increases the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis making the diagnosis of Cushing's syndrome even more challenging. This is particularly so since urine free cortisol (UFC) testing is not useful in CKD. The case report by Stroud et al. in this issue of the European Journal of Endocrinology highlights this problem by finding normal UFC in a patient with pituitary ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome. Elevated late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC) testing was diagnostic and pituitary adenomectomy was curative. LNSC measurement is the diagnostic test of choice in patients with suspected Cushing's syndrome, particularly in the presence of CKD..
Martin Reincke, Adriana Albani, Guillaume Assie, Irina Bancos, Thierry Brue, Michael Buchfelder, Olivier Chabre, Filippo Ceccato, Andrea Daniele, Mario Detomas, Guido Di Dalmazi, Atanaska Elenkova, James Findling, Ashley B Grossman, Celso E Gomez-Sanchez, Anthony P Heaney, Juergen Honegger, Niki Karavitaki, Andre Lacroix, Edward R Laws, Marco Losa, Masanori Murakami, John Newell-Price, Francesca Pecori Giraldi, Luis G Pérez‐Rivas, Rosario Pivonello, William E Rainey, Silviu Sbiera, Jochen Schopohl, Constantine A Stratakis, Marily Theodoropoulou, Elisabeth F C van Rossum, Elena Valassi, Sabina Zacharieva, German Rubinstein, and Katrin Ritzel
Corticotroph tumor progression (CTP) leading to Nelson’s syndrome (NS) is a severe and difficult-to-treat complication subsequent to bilateral adrenalectomy (BADX) for Cushing’s disease. Its characteristics are not well described, and consensus recommendations for diagnosis and treatment are missing.
A systematic literature search was performed focusing on clinical studies and case series (≥5 patients). Definition, cumulative incidence, treatment and long-term outcomes of CTP/NS after BADX were analyzed using descriptive statistics. The results were presented and discussed at an interdisciplinary consensus workshop attended by international pituitary experts in Munich on October 28, 2018.
Data covered definition and cumulative incidence (34 studies, 1275 patients), surgical outcome (12 studies, 187 patients), outcome of radiation therapy (21 studies, 273 patients), and medical therapy (15 studies, 72 patients).
We endorse the definition of CTP-BADX/NS as radiological progression or new detection of a pituitary tumor on thin-section MRI. We recommend surveillance by MRI after 3 months and every 12 months for the first 3 years after BADX. Subsequently, we suggest clinical evaluation every 12 months and MRI at increasing intervals every 2–4 years (depending on ACTH and clinical parameters). We recommend pituitary surgery as first-line therapy in patients with CTP-BADX/NS. Surgery should be performed before extrasellar expansion of the tumor to obtain complete and long-term remission. Conventional radiotherapy or stereotactic radiosurgery should be utilized as second-line treatment for remnant tumor tissue showing extrasellar extension