Current workup for the pre-operative distinction between frequent adrenocortical adenomas (ACAs) and rare but aggressive adrenocortical carcinomas (ACCs) combines imaging and biochemical testing. We here investigated the potential of plasma steroid hormone profiling by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) for the diagnosis of malignancy in adrenocortical tumors.
Retrospective cohort study of prospectively collected EDTA-plasma samples in a single tertiary reference center.
Steroid hormone profiling by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) in random plasma samples and logistic regression modeling.
Fifteen steroid hormones were quantified in 66 ACAs (29 males; M) and 42 ACC (15 M) plasma samples. Significantly higher abundances in ACC vs ACA were observed for 11-deoxycorticosterone, progesterone, 17-hydroxyprogesterone, 11-deoxycortisol, DHEA, DHEAS and estradiol (all P < 0.05). Maximal areas under the curve (AUC) for discrimination between ACA and ACC for single analytes were only 0.76 (estradiol) and 0.77 (progesterone), respectively. Logistic regression modeling enabled the discovery of diagnostic signatures composed of six specific steroids for male and female patients with AUC of 0.95 and 0.94, respectively. Positive predictive values in males and females were 92 and 96%, negative predictive values 90 and 86%, respectively.
This study in a large adrenal tumor patient cohort demonstrates the value of plasma steroid hormone profiling for diagnosis of ACC. Application of LC-MS/MS analysis and of our model may facilitate diagnosis of malignancy in non-expert centers. We propose to continuously evaluate and improve diagnostic accuracy of LC-MS/MS profiling by applying machine-learning algorithms to prospectively obtained steroid hormone profiles.