Surgical strategy in the management of non-small cell ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone syndrome

Martha A. Zeiger, Harvey I. Pass, John D. Doppman, Lynnette K. Nieman, George P. Chrousos, Gordon B. Cutler, Robert T. Jensen, Jeffrey A. Norton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Background. Non-small cell ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) syndrome is a rare cause of hypercortisolism that may require surgery for either curative resection or palliative adrenalectomy. Methods. We report our surgical experience with 41 patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome and no evidence of small cell lung cancer at initial evaluation. Results. All 41 patients had documented hypercortisolism secondary to ectopic production of ACTH. Based on imaging study results, we determined that 21 patients had localized/resectable disease; eight patients had metastatic disease, and 12 patients had occult disease at examination. Of the 21 patients with localized disease, 16 (76%) were cured of ectopic ACTH by surgery (15 bronchial carcinoid, one pheochromocytoma). Patients with bronchial carcinoid had the greatest probability for cure of ectopic ACTH syndrome, and patients with thoracic primary tumor were more likely to be cured than patients with abdominal primaries. Of the eight patients who had metastatic disease, none were cured of the disease; five patients underwent bilateral adrenalectomy, and three patients were given medical therapy. Only one patient was alive after 5 years. Of the 12 patients who had occult disease, four patients were eventually cured of the disease (three bronchial carcinoid, one thymic carcinoid); one patient died of disease (small cell lung cancer), and seven patients still have occult disease. Nine of 12 patients with occult disease underwent bilateral adrenalectomy for surgical management of hypercortisolism. Conclusions. This study suggests that the most common primary focus of ectopic ACTH production is within the thorax with 25 of 34 (74%) identifiable tumors originating within either the thymus or bronchus. Adrenalectomy offers excellent palliation of hypercortisolism secondary to either occult or metastatic disease. Patients who initially have localized disease usually have bronchial carcinoids and have a high probability of cure with surgical resection (81 %).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)994-1001
Number of pages8
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1992
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


Dive into the research topics of 'Surgical strategy in the management of non-small cell ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone syndrome'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this