While adrenocortical carcinoma — a malignant tumor of the adrenal gland — appears only rarely in children, the tumor may cause secondary Cushing’s syndrome in these patients, a new case report shows.
Early diagnosis of the causes of Cushing’s syndrome could improve the prognosis of these children, researchers say.
The study, “Cushing Syndrome Revealing an Adrenocortical Carcinoma,” was published in the Open Journal of Pediatrics.
Adrenocortical carcinoma is a malignant tumor that develops in the cortex of the adrenal gland. It usually is identified by increased amounts of hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands, like cortisol.
This tumor type is very rare in children, representing fewer than two in every 1,000 pediatric tumors.
Researchers at the University Hospital Center Souro Sanou, in Burquina Faso (West Africa), described the case of a 10-year-old girl who developed this rare cancer.
The patient’s first symptoms were loss of consciousness and recurrent seizures without fever. The patient also had experienced excessive weight gain in the preceding months. At admission she was in a light state of coma and showed obesity in the face and trunk.
An initial analysis of blood, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid failed to detect any alterations, with no diabetes, kidney damage, or infection identified. And, even though no lesions or alteration were seen in the pituitary gland region, brain swelling was detected.
While in the hospital, the patient’s condition continued to deteriorate. She developed fever and difficulty speaking, while showing persistent seizures.
In the absence of a diagnosis, physicians focused on the safeguard of major vital function, control of seizures, and administration of large-spectrum antibiotics. Her condition improved slightly, regaining consciousness and control of seizures.
One month later, however, the patient developed symptoms that are commonly associated with increased levels of cortisol and male sex hormones, including obesity and early development of pubic hair.
After confirming high cortisol levels, physicians examined the patient’s abdominal region, which revealed a tumor in the left adrenal gland.
The patient received a ketoconazole treatment and a surgery to remove the tumor was planned. But her condition worsened, with development of malignant hypertension and convulsive illness, which led to her death before the tumor was removed.
“The delay in the diagnosis and the insufficiency of the therapeutic means darken the prognosis in our context,” the researchers wrote.
“[Adrenocortical carcinoma] diagnosis should be considered in presence of virilization and early signs of puberty,” the researchers suggested. “Early diagnosis and multidisciplinary management of adrenocortical carcinoma could improve the prognosis in children.”