Transsphenoidal microsurgical treatment of Cushing disease: postoperative assessment of surgical efficacy by application of an overnight low-dose dexamethasone suppression test

Joseph C. T. Chen M.D., Ph.D.1, Arun P. Amar M.D.1, SooHo Choi M.D.1, Peter Singer M.D.1, William T. Couldwell M.D., Ph.D.1, and Martin H. Weiss M.D.1
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  • 1 Departments of Neurological Surgery and Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California; and Department of Neurosurgery, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, Utah
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Object. Transsphenoidal adenomectomy with resection of a defined pituitary adenoma has been the treatment of choice for CD for the last 30 years. Surgical resection, however, may not always result in long-term remission of CD. This is particularly important in light of the high risk of morbidity and mortality in patients in the unsuccessfully treated cushingoid state. As such, it is interesting to identify prognostic factors that may predict the likelihood of long-term remission.

Methods. The authors review their series of 174 patients who have undergone transsphenoidal procedures for CD over a period of 20 years with minimum follow-up periods of 5 years. Selection of these patients was based on clinical, imaging, and laboratory criteria that included serum cortisol levels, loss of diurnal variation in serum cortisol levels, urinary free cortisol concentration, and results of a dexamethasone suppression test, petrosal sinus sampling, and corticotroph-releasing hormone stimulation tests as indicated. All patients who met the biochemical criteria underwent transsphenoidal microsurgery.

The authors found an overall rate of remission of 74% at 5 years postoperatively. Patients in whom morning serum cortisol concentrations were lower than 3 µg/dl (83 nmol/L) on postoperative Day 3, following an overnight dexamethasone suppression test, had a 93% chance of remission at the 5-year follow-up examination. Patients with cortisol concentrations higher than this level uniformly failed to achieve long-term remission.

Conclusions. Transsphenoidal microsurgery is an effective means of control for patients with adrenocorticotrophic hormone—producing microadenomas. Clinical outcome correlated well with the size of the tumor, as measured on preoperative imaging studies, and with postoperative morning cortisol levels following an overnight dexamethasone suppression test. Postoperative cortisol levels can be used as a useful prognostic indicator of the likelihood of future recurrence following transsphenoidal adenomectomy in CD.

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