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Massimo Terzolo, Giuseppe Reimondo and Alberto Angeli

Clinical endocrinologists have to deal frequently with adrenal incidentalomas in their practice. However, no comprehensive guidelines have been published by professional societies to guide assessment and management of adrenal incidentalomas and current recommendations are mainly based on the NIH state-of-the-science statement or expert opinions. An accompanying paper in this issue of the journal provides a critical revision of the relevant literature on this clinically important topic. The provocative conclusion of the authors is that current recommendations are burdened by high costs, little clinical benefit and also risk of inducing cancer. This paper has the merit to outline the limits of proposed protocols and to stimulate fruitful discussion; however, many aspects represent the personal view of the authors rather than evidence-based assumptions. The purpose of the present comment is to provide a more balanced view addressing the arguments that are condivisible and those that are based on inconsistent data. To add further to the argument of discussion, we also outline a clinically-oriented strategy for follow-up. In conclusion, the need for further research appears evident to define more efficient guidelines.

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Giangiacomo Osella, Massimo Ventura, Arianna Ardito, Barbara Allasino, Angela Termine, Laura Saba, Rosetta Vitetta, Massimo Terzolo and Alberto Angeli

Objective

The aim of the study was to evaluate the relationship between cortisol secretion, bone health, and bone loss in a cohort of normal women in the early postmenopausal period.

Methods

We measured lumbar and hip bone mineral density (BMD) by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) and heel ultrasound parameters in 82 healthy, nonosteoporotic (lumbar T-score ≥−2.0) women (median age 52.5 years, range 42–61). These women were examined in two sessions, 1 year apart, in the early postmenopausal period (onset of menopause between 6 and 60 months). Parameters of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis function were morning serum cortisol, morning and midnight salivary cortisol, 24-h urinary free cortisol (UFC), serum cortisol after 0.5 and 1 mg overnight dexamethasone, and DHEA-S.

Results

In multiple regression analyses, the following significant inverse correlations were found: i) lumbar BMD and either 24-h UFC (P<0.005) or morning serum cortisol (P<0.05), ii) total femur and femoral neck BMD with morning serum cortisol (P=0.05 and P<0.05), and iii) heel ultrasound stiffness index and midnight salivary cortisol (P<0.005). The annual rate of change in lumbar and femoral BMD did not correlate with any of the above-mentioned hormonal variables. No difference was found in the parameters of HPA axis function in slow (loss of BMD <1%) vs fast (loss of BMD ≥3%) bone losers.

Conclusions

HPA axis may contribute to postmenopausal bone health, but differences in cortisol secretion do not influence the differential rate of bone loss between slow and fast bone losers in the early postmenopausal period, at least in healthy women.

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Giuseppe Reimondo, Barbara Allasino, Silvia Bovio, Piero Paccotti, Alberto Angeli and Massimo Terzolo

Objective: It is presently unclear whether the accuracy of midnight serum cortisol (F24) in the diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome (CS) may be replicated under usual conditions of clinical care. The aim of the present study was to assess retrospectively the effectiveness of F24 for confirming the diagnosis in a consecutive series of 106 patients, in 78 of whom a definitive diagnosis of CS was made.

Design and methods: We have compared the results of F24, urinary free cortisol (UFC) and the overnight 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test (DST) with the definitive clinical diagnosis. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis has been performed to define the best cutoff values, the sensitivity (Se) and the specificity (Sp) of the tests.

Results: The best cutoff value for F24 was 8.3 μg/dl (Se 91.8%; Sp 96.4%). The best cutoff value for the DST was 4.0 μg/dl (Se 89.2%; Sp 90.9%). The best cutoff value for UFC was 238 μg/24 h (Se 73.2%; Sp 96.3%). The area under the curve of F24 was significantly greater than that of UFC, both in the overall series (P = 0.004) and in the subgroup of patients with mild CS (P = 0.02). The differences were analyzed by means of the two-tailed students’s t-test. With the thresholds generated by the ROC analysis, UFC would have failed to achieve the correct diagnosis in a significantly higher percentage of cases than F24 (20.4% vs 7.9%; P = 0.01). The difference was analyzed by means of the chi-squared test with Yates correction.

Conclusions: The present results show that F24 has excellent effectiveness in the diagnostic procedures for CS in stressed conditions (patients studied in a hospital ward in a nonsleeping state). The test appears to be accurate also for patients with mild hypercortisolism.

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Massimo Terzolo, Silvia Bovio, Anna Pia, Pier Antonio Conton, Giuseppe Reimondo, Chiara Dall’Asta, Donatella Bemporad, Alberto Angeli, Giuseppe Opocher, Massimo Mannelli, Bruno Ambrosi and Franco Mantero

Objective: There is scant information on the morbidity associated with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome in patients with a clinically inapparent adrenal adenoma. In the present study, we have determined the prevalence of alterations of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis in such patients and examined whether any correlation between endocrine data and the clinical phenotype exists.

Design and methods: A multi-institutional retrospective study was carried out on 210 patients (135 women and 75 men aged 19–81 years) with an adrenal adenoma detected serendipitously between 1996 and 2000 in four referral centers in Italy.

Results: Hypertension was observed in 53.8%, obesity in 21.4% and hyperglycemia in 22.4% of patients. The 47 patients with midnight serum cortisol >5.4 μg/dl, a value corresponding to the 97th centile of 100 controls, were older and displayed greater fasting glucose (120.4±52.2 mg/dl vs 105.1±39.2 mg/dl, P = 0.04) and systolic blood pressure (148.3±14.6 mmHg vs 136.4±16.2 mmHg, P = 0.0009) than the 113 patients with normal cortisol levels. The difference in systolic blood pressure remained statistically significant (P = 0.009) when age was used as a covariate. The percentage of hypertensive patients undergoing treatment was not different between the two groups (90.5 and 97.1%) but the percentage of patients with controlled hypertension was significantly lower among the hypercortisolemic patients (12.5 vs 32.4%, P = 0.04). Glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels were higher in the hypercortisolemic diabetic patients (8.9±1.1% vs 7.1±1.3%, P = 0.005).

Conclusions: Elevated midnight cortisol concentration is a reliable test to select a subgroup of patients with a clinically inapparent adrenal adenoma with an adverse cardiovascular risk profile.

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Filippo Ceccato, Nora Albiger, Giuseppe Reimondo, Anna Chiara Frigo, Sergio Ferasin, Gianluca Occhi, Franco Mantero, Massimo Terzolo and Carla Scaroni

Context

Appropriate glucocorticoid replacement therapy in adrenal insufficiency (AI) is crucial, given the risks of chronic under- or overtreatment, particularly in patients on multiple medications. Salivary sampling allows for non-invasive, stress-free cortisol measurement.

Objective

To determine whether salivary cortisol measurement is helpful in assessing the adequacy of glucocorticoid therapy with cortisone acetate (CA) in patients with secondary AI.

Design

A prospective cohort study at the Endocrinology Unit of Padua University Hospital.

Methods

Six samples of salivary cortisol were collected from 28 patients with secondary AI on CA treatment and from 36 healthy volunteers at fixed times of the day, and used to calculate salivary cortisol levels at each time point and the area under the curve (AUC) across the different sampling times.

Results

Salivary cortisol levels were lower in patients than in controls in the morning but no differences were found in the afternoon or at night before resting. Salivary cortisol levels were higher in patients immediately following CA administration. Ten patients showed an AUC above the 97.5th percentile of controls, without clinical signs of hypercortisolism, and salivary cortisol levels 90 min after each dose of CA predict the AUC. All patients had severe GH deficiency and there were no differences in salivary cortisol levels or AUC between patients treated or not with GH.

Conclusions

Two salivary cortisol determinations, able to predict the daily AUC, may allow for assessing the adequacy of glucocorticoid replacement therapy in secondary AI and for identifying cases of over- or undertreatment.

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Martin Fassnacht, Wiebke Arlt, Irina Bancos, Henning Dralle, John Newell-Price, Anju Sahdev, Antoine Tabarin, Massimo Terzolo, Stylianos Tsagarakis and Olaf M Dekkers

By definition, an adrenal incidentaloma is an asymptomatic adrenal mass detected on imaging not performed for suspected adrenal disease. In most cases, adrenal incidentalomas are nonfunctioning adrenocortical adenomas, but may also represent conditions requiring therapeutic intervention (e.g. adrenocortical carcinoma, pheochromocytoma, hormone-producing adenoma or metastasis). The purpose of this guideline is to provide clinicians with best possible evidence-based recommendations for clinical management of patients with adrenal incidentalomas based on the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) system. We predefined four main clinical questions crucial for the management of adrenal incidentaloma patients, addressing these four with systematic literature searches: (A) How to assess risk of malignancy?; (B) How to define and manage low-level autonomous cortisol secretion, formerly called ‘subclinical’ Cushing’s syndrome?; (C) Who should have surgical treatment and how should it be performed?; (D) What follow-up is indicated if the adrenal incidentaloma is not surgically removed?

Selected recommendations:

(i) At the time of initial detection of an adrenal mass establishing whether the mass is benign or malignant is an important aim to avoid cumbersome and expensive follow-up imaging in those with benign disease. (ii) To exclude cortisol excess, a 1mg overnight dexamethasone suppression test should be performed (applying a cut-off value of serum cortisol ≤50nmol/L (1.8µg/dL)). (iii) For patients without clinical signs of overt Cushing’s syndrome but serum cortisol levels post 1mg dexamethasone >138nmol/L (>5µg/dL), we propose the term ‘autonomous cortisol secretion’. (iv) All patients with ‘(possible) autonomous cortisol’ secretion should be screened for hypertension and type 2 diabetes mellitus, to ensure these are appropriately treated. (v) Surgical treatment should be considered in an individualized approach in patients with ‘autonomous cortisol secretion’ who also have comorbidities that are potentially related to cortisol excess. (vi) In principle, the appropriateness of surgical intervention should be guided by the likelihood of malignancy, the presence and degree of hormone excess, age, general health and patient preference. (vii) Surgery is not usually indicated in patients with an asymptomatic, nonfunctioning unilateral adrenal mass and obvious benign features on imaging studies. We provide guidance on which surgical approach should be considered for adrenal masses with radiological findings suspicious of malignancy. Furthermore, we offer recommendations for the follow-up of patients with adrenal incidentaloma who do not undergo adrenal surgery, for those with bilateral incidentalomas, for patients with extra-adrenal malignancy and adrenal masses and for young and elderly patients with adrenal incidentalomas

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Irina Bancos, Fares Alahdab, Rachel K Crowley, Vasileios Chortis, Danae A Delivanis, Dana Erickson, Neena Natt, Massimo Terzolo, Wiebke Arlt, William F Young Jr and M Hassan Murad

Objective

Beneficial effects of adrenalectomy on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with subclinical Cushing’s syndrome (SCS) are uncertain. We sought to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis with the following objectives: (i) determine the effect of adrenalectomy compared with conservative management on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with SCS and (ii) compare the effect of adrenalectomy on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with SCS vs those with a nonfunctioning (NF) adrenal tumor.

Methods

MEDLINE In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, MEDLINE, EMBASE and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trial were searched on 17 November 2015. Reviewers extracted data and assessed methodological quality in duplicate.

Results

We included 26 studies reporting on 584 patients with SCS and 457 patients with NF adrenal tumors. Studies used different definitions of SCS. Patients with SCS undergoing adrenalectomy demonstrated an overall improvement in cardiovascular risk factors (61% for hypertension, 52% for diabetes mellitus, 45% for obesity and 24% for dyslipidemia). When compared with conservative management, patients with SCS undergoing adrenalectomy experienced improvement in hypertension (RR 11, 95% CI: 4.3–27.8) and diabetes mellitus (RR 3.9, 95% CI: 1.5–9.9), but not dyslipidemia (RR 2.6, 95% CI: 0.97–7.2) or obesity (RR 3.4, 95% CI: 0.95–12). Patients with NF adrenal tumors experienced improvement in hypertension (21/54 patients); however, insufficient data exist for comparison to patients with SCS.

Conclusions

Available low-to-moderate-quality evidence from heterogeneous studies suggests a beneficial effect of adrenalectomy on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with SCS overall and compared with conservative management.

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Giuseppe Reimondo, Silvia Bovio, Barbara Allasino, Silvia De Francia, Barbara Zaggia, Ilaria Micossi, Angela Termine, Francesca De Martino, Piero Paccotti, Francesco Di Carlo, Alberto Angeli and Massimo Terzolo

Objective

It remains to be evaluated whether the combined low-dose dexamethasone suppression corticotropin-releasing hormone test (LDDST-CRH test) may add to the diagnostic approach of patients suspected to have Cushing's syndrome (CS). The aim of the present study was to evaluate whether the LDDST-CRH test may have a place in the diagnostic strategy of CS.

Design

Prospective evaluation of a consecutive series of patients with suspected CS from 2004 to 2006.

Methods

All the subjects underwent the same screening protocol including 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test, 24-h urinary free cortisol (UFC), and midnight serum cortisol, followed by the LDDST-CRH test whose results were not used to establish a definitive diagnosis. Plasma dexamethasone concentration was measured 2 h after the last dose of dexamethasone. Patients qualified for CS when at least two screening tests were positive.

Results

Sixteen patients had CS while in the remaining 15 subjects CS was excluded. Even if not statistically significant, the sensitivity and the negative predictive value of the cortisol 15 min after CRH were better than the other tests; on the other hand, the test specificity was lower. All of the patients classified as indeterminate were correctly diagnosed by the LDDST-CRH test. Nevertheless, the repeated assessment of the screening tests and the active follow-up gave the same correct results. In all of the patients misclassified by the LDDST-CRH test, the plasma dexamethasone concentrations were in the normal range.

Conclusions

Based on our findings, we suggest that the LDDST-CRH test may still find a place as a rule-out procedure in patients who present with indeterminate results after screening and may be unavailable to repeat testing during follow-up.

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Giuseppe Reimondo, Soraya Puglisi, Barbara Zaggia, Vittoria Basile, Laura Saba, Paola Perotti, Silvia De Francia, Marco Volante, Maria Chiara Zatelli, Salvatore Cannavò and Massimo Terzolo

Objective

Mitotane, a drug used to treat adrenocortical cancer (ACC), inhibits multiple enzymatic steps of adrenocortical steroid biosynthesis, potentially causing adrenal insufficiency. Recent studies in vitro have also documented a direct inhibitory effect of mitotane at the pituitary level. The present study was aimed to assess the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis in patients with ACC receiving mitotane.

Design and methods

We prospectively enrolled 16 patients on adjuvant treatment with mitotane after radical surgical resection of ACC, who underwent standard hormone evaluation and h-CRH stimulation. A group of 10 patients with primary adrenal insufficiency (PAI) served as controls for the CRH test.

Results

We demonstrated a close correlation between cortisol-binding globulin (CBG) and plasma mitotane levels, and a non-significant trend between mitotane dose and either serum or salivary cortisol in ACC patients. We did not find any correlation between the dose of cortisone acetate and either ACTH or cortisol levels. ACTH levels were significantly higher in patients with PAI than that in patients with ACC, both in baseline conditions (88.99 (11.04–275.00) vs 24.53 (6.16–121.88) pmol/L, P = 0.031) and following CRH (158.40 (34.32–275.00) vs 67.43 (8.8–179.52) pmol/L P = 0.016).

Conclusions

The observation of lower ACTH levels in patients with ACC than that in patients with PAI, both in basal conditions and after CRH stimulation, suggests that mitotane may play an inhibitory effect on ACTH secretion at the pituitary levels. In conclusion, the present study shows that mitotane affects the HPA axis at multiple levels and no single biomarker may be used for the assessment of adrenal insufficiency.

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Martin Fassnacht, Olaf Dekkers, Tobias Else, Eric Baudin, Alfredo Berruti, Ronald R de Krijger, H.r Haak, Radu Mihai, Guillaume Assie and Massimo Terzolo

Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a rare and in most cases steroid hormone producing tumor with variable prognosis. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide clinicians with best possible evidence-based recommendations for clinical management of patients with ACC based on the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) system. We predefined four main clinical questions, which we judged as particularly important for the management of ACC patients and performed systematic literature searches: (A) What is needed to diagnose an ACC by histopathology? (B) Which are the best prognostic markers in ACC? (C) Is adjuvant therapy able to prevent recurrent disease or reduce mortality after radical resection? (D) What is the best treatment option for macroscopically incompletely resected, recurrent or metastatic disease? Other relevant questions were discussed within the group. SELECTED RECOMMENDATIONS: (i) We recommend that all patients with suspected and proven ACC are discussed in a multidisciplinary expert team meeting (ii) We recommend that every patient with (suspected) ACC should undergo careful clinical assessment, detailed endocrine work-up to identify autonomous hormone excess, and adrenal-focused imaging. (iii) We recommend that adrenal surgery for (suspected) ACC should be performed only by surgeons experienced in adrenal and oncological surgery aiming at a complete en-bloc resection (including resection of oligo-metastatic disease). (iv) We suggest that all suspected ACC should be reviewed by an expert adrenal pathologist using the Weiss score and providing Ki67 index. (v) We suggest adjuvant mitotane treatment in patients after radical surgery that have a perceived high risk of recurrence (ENSAT stage III, or R1 resection, or Ki67 >10%). (vi) For advanced ACC not amenable to complete surgical resection, local therapeutic measures (e.g. radiation therapy, radiofrequency ablation, chemo-embolization) are of particular value. However, we suggest against the routine use of adrenal surgery in case of widespread metastatic disease. In these patients we recommend either mitotane monotherapy or mitotane, etoposide, doxorubicin, and cisplatin depending on prognostic parameters. In selected patients with a good response, surgery may be subsequently considered. (vii) In patients with recurrent disease and a disease-free interval of at least 12 months, in whom a complete resection/ablation seems feasible, we recommend surgery or alternatively other local therapies. Furthermore, we offer detailed recommendations about the management of mitotane treatment and other supportive therapies. Finally, we suggest directions for future research