Management of adrenocorticotropic hormone-secreting neuroendocrine tumors and the role of bilateral adrenalectomy in ectopic Cushing syndrome

Published:April 15, 2022DOI:



      Neuroendocrine tumors can cause ectopic Cushing syndrome, and most patients have metastatic disease at diagnosis. We identified risk factors for outcome, evaluated ectopic Cushing syndrome management, and explored the role of bilateral adrenalectomy in this population.


      This was a retrospective study including patients with diagnosis of ectopic Cushing Syndrome secondary to neuroendocrine tumors with adrenocorticotropic hormone secretion treated at our quaternary referral center over a 40-year period (1980–2020).


      Seventy-six patients were included. Mean age at diagnosis was 46.3 ± 15.8 years. Most patients (N = 61, 80%) had metastases at ectopic Cushing syndrome diagnosis. Average follow-up was 2.9 ± 3.7 years (range, 4 months–17.2 years). Patients with neuroendocrine tumors before ectopic Cushing syndrome had more frequent metastatic disease and resistant ectopic Cushing syndrome. Patients with de novo hyperglycemia, poor neuroendocrine tumor differentiation, and metastatic disease had worse survival. Of those with nonmetastatic disease, 8 (53%) had ectopic Cushing syndrome resolution after neuroendocrine tumor resection, 3 (20%) were medically controlled, and 4 (27%) underwent bilateral adrenalectomy. In patients with metastatic neuroendocrine tumors, hypercortisolism was initially medically managed in 92%, 3% underwent immediate bilateral adrenalectomy, 2% had control after primary neuroendocrine tumor debulking, and 2% were lost to follow-up. Medical treatment resulted in hormonal control in 7 (13%) patients. Of the 49 patients with metastatic disease and medically resistant ectopic Cushing syndrome, 23 ultimately had bilateral adrenalectomy with ectopic Cushing syndrome cure in all.


      Patients with neuroendocrine tumors before ectopic Cushing syndrome development were more likely metastatic and had worse survival. De novo hyperglycemia and poor neuroendocrine tumor differentiation were predictive of worse prognosis. Medical control of hypercortisolism is difficult to achieve in patients with neuroendocrine tumors–ectopic Cushing syndrome. Well-selected patients may benefit from bilateral adrenalectomy early in the treatment algorithm, and multidisciplinary management is essential in this complex disease.

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