Ectopic Cushing syndrome
Cushing syndrome - ectopic
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Cushing syndrome is the result of too much glucocorticoid hormones being released over a long period of time. About 15% of Cushing syndrome cases are due to ectopic Cushing syndrome.
Ectopic Cushing syndrome is caused by tumors that release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). Other causes of Cushing syndrome are:
- Excess release of ACTH by the pituitary gland
- Long-term use of corticosteroid drugs (commonly used to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma)
- Tumor of the adrenal gland
Tumors that can, in rare cases, release ACTH include:
Ectopic Cushing syndrome tends to have fewer dramatic symptoms than classic Cushing syndrome, but it can occur with higher blood pressure and a lower potassium level. Weight loss may occur due to cancer.
Symptoms of Cushing syndrome are:
- Abdomen sticks out; arms and legs are thin (central obesity)
- Acne or minor skin infections
- Buffalo hump
- Impotence (in men)
- Increased urination
- Menstrual cycle stops (in women)
- Mental changes
- Purple stretch marks on the skin of the abdomen, thighs, and breasts
- Round, red, and full face (moon face)
- Tanning or darkening of the skin
Signs and tests
Tests that may be done include:
The best treatment for ectopic Cushing syndrome is surgery to remove the tumor. Surgery is usually possible when the tumor is noncancerous (benign).
In some cases, the tumor is cancerous and spreads to other areas of the body before the health care provider can discover the problem with cortisol production. Surgery may not be possible in these cases, but the doctor may prescribe drugs to block cortisol production.
Surgery to remove the tumor may lead to full recovery, but there is a chance that the tumor will come back.
The tumor may spread or return after surgery. High cortisol levels may continue.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you develop symptoms of Cushing syndrome.
Prompt treatment of tumors may reduce the risk in some cases. Many cases are not preventable.
Arnaldi G, Angeli A, Atkinson AB, et al. Diagnosis and complications of Cushing's syndrome: A consensus statement. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003;88:5595-5602.
Stewart PM. The adrenal cortex. In: Kronenberg HM, Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 14.
Reviewed By: Elizabeth H Holt, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Section of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Yale University. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.