Vol 67, No 4 (2016)
Review paper
Published online: 2016-07-06

open access

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Cushing’s syndrome due to ectopic ACTH secretion

Łukasz Cieszyński, Monika Berendt-Obołończyk, Michał Szulc, Krzysztof Sworczak
Pubmed: 27387249
Endokrynol Pol 2016;67(4):458-471.


Cushing’s syndrome (CS) is defined as a constellation of clinical signs and symptoms occurring due to hypercortisolism. Cortisol excess may be endogenous or exogenous. The most common cause of CS is glucocorticoid therapy with supraphysiological (higher than in the case of substitution) doses used in various diseases (e.g. autoimmune). One possible CS cause is ectopic (extra-pituitary) ACTH secretion (EAS) by benign or malignant tumours. Since its first description in 1963, EAS aetiology has changed, i.e. as well as small cell lung cancer (SCLC), higher incidence in other malignancies has been reported. Ectopic ACTH secretion symptoms are usually similar to hypercortisolism symptoms due to other causes. A clinical suspicion of CS requires laboratory investigations. There is no single and specific laboratory test for making a CS diagnosis, and therefore multiple dynamic tests should be ordered. A combination of multiple laboratory noninvasive and invasive tests gives 100% sensitivity and 98% specificity for EAS diagnosis. If the EAS is caused by localised malignancy, surgery is the optimal treatment choice. Radical tumour excision may be performed in 40% of patients, and 80% of them are cured of the disease. The authors present an interesting clinical case of EAS, which is always a huge diagnostic challenge for clinicians. (Endokrynol Pol 2016; 67 (4): 458–464)