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Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1986 Jun;24(6):699-713.

Diagnosis and management of ACTH-dependent Cushing's syndrome: comparison of the features in ectopic and pituitary ACTH production.


The clinical features, diagnosis and management of 16 consecutive patients with ectopic ACTH production are described and biochemical data are compared with those of 48 consecutive patients with pituitary-dependent Cushing's disease. In 10 cases the ectopic ACTH secreting tumour was completely occult to routine clinical and radiological investigation, and no basal or dynamic investigation of adrenal-pituitary function was able clearly to differentiate these patients from those with Cushing's disease. High dose dexamethasone suppression testing assessed by plasma cortisol was usually helpful but unexpected responses were seen in both diagnostic groups; the metyrapone test yielded no useful information and should now be abandoned. Hypokalaemia was seen in all patients with ectopic ACTH production but in only 10% of those with Cushing's disease who were not on diuretics at presentation. Successful diagnosis and tumour localization was most frequently achieved by a combination of CT scanning of the chest and abdomen and venous catheter sampling for ACTH. All patients in whom the ectopic ACTH-secreting tumour was obvious at presentation died of their primary tumour within 8 months, whereas seven of the 10 patients with occult tumours at presentation are alive 1.5-16.5 years later, and appear cured. Occult ectopic ACTH secretion may be impossible to distinguish from pituitary Cushing's disease. Multiple and repeated investigations are often required to make this differential diagnosis, essential for appropriate therapy.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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