Cushing's syndrome remains one of the most challenging problems in clinical endocrinology. Cushing's disease is caused in the majority of cases by basophil pituitary microadenomas which may be successfully treated by trans-sphenoidal hypophysectomy. Treatment with metyrapone or o,p'-DDD can always induce a clinical remission but not a cure, and neurotransmitter therapy may be effective in a minority of cases. Pituitary irradiation cures about half of cases in the long-term and may be used for surgical failures. Tumours producing ectopic ACTH are frequently benign, small and occult and may produce a syndrome clinically indistinguishable from Cushing's disease. Biochemical investigations cannot absolutely distinguish pituitary from ectopic sources of ACTH and therefore body CT scanning and percatheter venous sampling are essential diagnostic investigations. Tumour localization may result in resection and complete cure, although even small tumours may have a malignant potential. Adrenal tumours are readily diagnosed by plasma ACTH measurement and adrenal CT scanning. Adrenal adenomas are cured by adrenalectomy. Carcinomas may be treated by a combination of adrenalectomy, radiotherapy and o,p'-DDD, but long-term prognosis is poor.
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