Microwave therapy improved the Cushing’s syndrome of a woman whose lungs had almost failed, allowing her to have the adrenal surgery needed to control her disease, a case study showed.
Lung infections had led to her near-respiratory failure.
Cushing’s syndrome stems from the pituitary gland producing excessive amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone. Too much of the hormone leads to the adrenal glands generating excessive amounts of another hormone, cortisol — and that overproduction results in Cushing’s. The disease’s symptoms include increasing obesity, skin problems, muscle weakness, bone loss, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, and an inability to control emotions.
Doctors often remove patients’ adrenal glands to prevent cortisol production. But in this case, the patient was not in good enough condition to have the surgery. So doctors used microwave technology to reduce her cortisol levels to the point where surgeons could operate.
The case study, published in BMJ Case Reports, was titled “Ectopic ACTH syndrome complicated by multiple opportunistic infections treated with percutaneous ablation of the adrenal glands.”
Excessive pituitary gland production of adrenocorticotropic hormone is the cause of 80 percent of Cushing’s cases.
In 5 to 10 percent of cases, a tumor in another part of the body also produces the hormone, leading to excessive amounts of it in the body. When a tumor is generating the hormone, the condition is called ectopic ACTH syndrome. The patient in the case study had ACTH syndrome.
The 63-year-old woman had complained to her family doctor about weight gain, headache, weakness, and flushing. When laboratory tests led to her being diagnosed with ectopic ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome, she was admitted to a hospital’s internal medicine department.
Doctors planned surgery to remove her adrenal glands, but two days before the operation was scheduled, respiratory failure sent her to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. There, physicians treated her for two infections in her lungs, plus infections in her blood and urinary tract. She experienced serious medical complications while in the Intensive Care Unit.
After a month, she was in good enough condition to leave intensive chair but too frail for surgery. Instead, doctors used microwaves to destroy as much of her adrenal glands as they could.
Within two weeks, her condition was better. She had been unable to leave her hospital bed while in intensive care. After the microwave treatment, she engaged in physiotherapy that led to her being able to use a two-wheeled walker to go short distances. She could also make short excursions outside the hospital with her family.
Six months later she returned to the hospital for surgical removal of her adrenal glands.
There were no complications from the operation, and doctors discharged her two days later. Her cortisol levels have been at acceptable levels since then.
“Our experience demonstrates that percutaneous ablation is a viable alternative in patients with ectopic ACTH syndrome in whom medical therapy has failed and surgical adrenalectomy is not feasible,” the researchers wrote. “Further research comparing the efficacy and complication rates between percutaneous ablation [microwave therapy] and surgical adrenalectomy is needed.” In addition, “research is needed to determine the optimal method of percutaneous intervention,” the team wrote.