Laparoscopic adrenalectomy — a minimally invasive procedure that removes the adrenal glands through a tiny hole in the abdomen — can be safely performed in obese patients with Cushing’s syndrome, a retrospective study reports.
The surgery resolved symptoms in 95% of cases, reducing cortisol levels, lowering blood pressure, and leading to a significant loss of weight in morbidly obese patients.
The study, “Minimally invasive approach to the adrenal gland in obese patients with Cushing’s syndrome,” was published in the journal Minimally Invasive Therapy & Allied Technologies.
Cushing’s syndrome results from the prolonged secretion of excess cortisol, the major glucocorticoid hormone. While most cases are caused by tumors in the pituitary gland, up to 27% result from tumors in the adrenal glands.
In these cases, the standard therapeutic strategy is to remove one or both adrenal glands, a surgical procedure called adrenalectomy. However, because glucocorticoids are key hormones regulating fat metabolism, Cushing’s syndrome patients are known to be prone to obesity, a feature that is often associated with post-operative complications.
In this study, researchers aimed to compare the outcomes of morbidly obese patients versus the mildly obese and non-obese who underwent a minimally invasive procedure to remove their adrenal glands.
The approach, called laparoscopic adrenalectomy, inserts tiny surgical tools through a small hole in the abdomen, along with a camera that helps guide the surgeon.
The study included 228 patients (mean age 53.4 years). Of them, 62 were non-obese, 87 were moderately obese, and 79 were considered morbidly obese. There were 121 patients with tumors in the right adrenal gland, 96 in the left gland, and 11 in both glands.
High blood pressure was the most common symptom, affecting 66.7% of the participants.
Surgery lasted 101 minutes on average, and patients remained in the hospital for a median 4.3 days afterward. Six patients had to be converted into an open surgery because of uncontrollable loss of blood or difficulties in the procedure. Post-surgery complications, most of which were minor, were seen in seven patients.
One patient had blood in the peritoneal cavity and had to have surgery again; another patient had inflammation of the pancreas that required a longer admission.
The analysis showed no statistical differences among the three groups regarding the length of surgery, length of stay in the hospital, or the rate of conversion into open surgery.
However, in obese women, surgeons chose a different surgical incision when removing the left adrenal gland, “suggesting that the distribution of visceral fat in these patients could constitute a drawback for the [standard] approach,” researchers said.
After the surgery, 95% of patients saw their symptoms resolve, including cortisol levels, high blood pressure, and glucose metabolism, and none had a worsening of symptoms in the 6.3 years of follow-up. Obese patients also showed a significant reduction in their weight — 2 kg by 18 months, and 5 kg by the end of follow-up.
Overall, “laparoscopic adrenalectomy is safe and feasible in obese patients affected with Cushing’s disease and it can lead to the resolution of the related symptoms,” researchers said.
The benefits of the surgery in patients with Cushing’s syndrome “could be extended to the improvements and in some cases to the resolution of hypercortisolism related symptoms (i.e. hypertension or even morbid obesity),” the study concluded.