Current status of adrenalectomy for Cushing's disease

F. C. Brunicardi, P. M. Rosman, K. L. Lesser, D. K. Andersen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


To evaluate the current use of adrenalectomy in the treatment of Cushing's disease, we reviewed seven consecutive patients who have undergone adrenalectomy for Cushing's disease at this medical center during 1983 to 1984. Seventy-one percent (5/7) had pituitary, or type I, Cushing's disease, while 29% (2/7) had adrenal, or type II, Cushing's disease from either an adenoma or an adrenocortical carcinoma. Presenting signs and symptoms, either initially or at the time of recurrence, were typical of Cushing's syndrome. Four of five patients with type I disease had recurrent disease after transphenoidal hypophysectomy, bilateral adrenalectomy, or unilateral adrenalectomy. In three of five patients, medical therapy of hypercortisolism was abandoned because of adverse side effects. Preoperative evaluation in all patients included cortisol and ACTH levels, dexamethasone suppression tests, and computerized tomography (both abdominal and head). In patients with a prior history of adrenalectomy, radiocholesterol scans were also performed and were useful. Angiographic procedures were not required in these patients. In patients with type I disease, posterior operative approaches were used. In patients with type II disease, an anterolateral approach was used. Posterolateral incisions are preferred over Hugh-Young incisions and provide better exposure with a reduced risk of poor wound healing. Morbidity and mortality included one death and three nonhealing wounds. In the six surviving patients, symptoms resolved with variable frequency. Findings suggestive of Nelson's syndrome (hyperpigmentation) have occurred in two patients; serial computerized tomographic scans fail to reveal evidence of pituitary tumors. We conclude that adrenalectomy remains an essential form of therapy for patients with Cushing's syndrome caused by adrenal tumors or recurrence after previous surgery. The response to the operation is generally good, but long-term surveillance is required for the development of Nelson's syndrome.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1127-1134
Number of pages8
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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