Usefulness of somatostatin receptor scintigraphy in patients with occult ectopic adrenocorticotropin syndrome

A Tabarin, N Valli, P Chanson, Y Bachelot, V Rohmer, V Bex-Bachellerie, B Catargi, P Roger, F Laurent
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 1999, 84 (4): 1193-202
SRIF receptor scintigraphy (SRS) has been proposed for the localization of ectopic ACTH-secreting tumors responsible for Cushing's syndrome. However, in most cases reported, the tumors were also visible using conventional imaging. Therefore, the usefulness of SRS in localizing truly occult ectopic ACTH-secreting tumors remains unknown. We report the results of SRS in 12 patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome (EAS) and in whom the source of ACTH was occult at presentation despite carefully performed conventional imaging. The diagnosis of EAS was made by identification of an ACTH-secreting tumor during follow-up in 5 patients or given a pituitary-to-peripheral ACTH ratio of 1.9 or less during petrosal sinus sampling combined with CRH injection and a negative pituitary magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Whole-body planar SRS, using (111)In-pentetreotide, was performed 19 times in the 12 patients during initial workup and/or follow-up. Axial tomography imaging (single-photon emission-computed tomography) was performed in 7 of these. Conventional imaging was performed within a month of SRS, allowing comparison of the two approaches for the localization of the ACTH-secreting tumors. In addition, the response of plasma cortisol, after a single injection of 200 microg octreotide, was studied in 6 patients. Five patients had negative SRS and conventional imaging studies. The source of ACTH secretion remains occult despite 10-55 months of follow-up in four of these, whereas a 2-cm ileal carcinoid tumor, with liver micrometastases, was found at laparotomy in one patient, 14 months after presentation. SRS was positive in 4 of 12 patients. It was false-positive in 1 patient with follicular thyroid adenoma. Nineteen months after presentation, SRS identified liver metastasis that was also visible using MRI in one patient, but the primary tumor remains occult. SRS identified a 10-mm pancreatic tumor that became detectable, using computed tomography (CT) scanning 9 months later, in 1 patient; and 2 mediastinal lymph nodes of 10 mm, previously ignored by MRI, in another patient, whereas no tumor was detectable within the parenchymal lung. SRS had little influence on therapeutic options in these 2 patients, in whom no final diagnosis could be made. Repetition of SRS during the follow-up of patients with previously negative scintiscans was useless. Conventional imaging was positive in 6 of 12 patients. In the 2 patients with pancreatic tumor and isolated mediastinal lymph nodes, conventional imaging studies were interpreted as positive only after the results of SRS. One patient had liver metastasis that was also visible using SRS. Thin-section CT scanning visualized ACTH-secreting bronchial tumors and metastatic mediastinal lymph nodes of 10-15 mm in diameter in 3 patients after 14-72 months of follow-up, whereas SRS was negative. There was no evident relationship between the endocrine status (hyper- or eucortisolism) and the results of SRS. The in vivo response of plasma cortisol to octreotide correlated to the results of SRS in 4 of 6 cases. In conclusion, both imaging procedures had a low diagnostic yield in this series. However, the sensitivity of SRS for the detection of bronchial carcinoids was lower than that of thin-section CT scanning. We therefore advocate the use of conventional imaging, including thin-section CT scanning of the chest, analyzed by experienced radiologists, as the first-line investigation in patients with occult EAS. SRS should not be repeated during the follow-up in patients with a previously negative scintigram.

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