The most common cause of Cushing syndrome is Cushing disease, in which hypercortisolism is produced by a functional adrenocorticotropic hormone–producing adenoma of the anterior pituitary gland. The common therapies available include microsurgical resection, conventional fractionated radiotherapy, and stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS). In this article the authors review the indications, results, and complications associated with SRS in the treatment of Cushing disease.
In as many as 90% of patients SRS results in disease remission, which is defined as a normal 24-hour urinary free cortisol level and a normal or subnormal morning serum cortisol level. Although in most patients who are subsequently cured a marked decrease in the serum cortisol level is demonstrated within 3 months after treatment, a biochemical cure may be delayed up to 3 years in some cases. Complications following SRS for pituitary adenomas are uncommon, particularly in patients with microadenomas, which are most commonly seen in Cushing disease. The most common complication is hypopituitarism, which occurs in up to 50% of patients with a mean latency period of 5 years. Radiation-induced optic neuropathy has been reported in less than 2% of cases and induction of a secondary neoplasm in less than 1% of cases.
For patients with Cushing disease, the rate of endocrinological cure following SRS appears to be similar to that attained using microsurgical resection. In contrast to surgery, SRS has the benefit of being noninvasive and associated with a very low incidence of diabetes insipidus, although hypopituitarism may be more common with SRS. With continued follow-up patient reviews and additional experience with SRS, it may become possible to make more definitive statements regarding SRS as the initial treatment for patients with Cushing disease.