Overt hypoadrenalism is uncommon in patients with stage 3 and 4 bronchogenic carcinoma

Journal Article


Journal Title

South African Medical Journal

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Health & Medical Publishing Group


University of Cape Town

Introduction. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality in most countries. The adrenal glands are common sites of metastatic lung cancer as approximately 40% of subjects with stage 4 bronchogenic carcinoma have adrenal metastases. The prevalence of biochemical hypoadrenalism is, however, remarkably poorly documented. Objectives. Our study aimed to determine the prevalence of primary hypoadrenalism, as defined by a subnormal cortisol response to the 250 µg adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test, in patients with stage 3 and 4 lung cancer. Methods. Thirty patients with stage 3 and 4 bronchogenic carcinoma were prospectively recruited from the bronchus clinic. Demographic data and electrolytes were recorded and each patient had a 250 µg ACTH stimulation test to determine the prevalence of overt adrenal insufficiency, defined as a +30 minute cortisol of less than 550 nmol/l. Results. The median age and quartile deviation was 62 (10) years and the median basal cortisol was 429.5 (321) nmol/l. The median peak cortisol was 828.5 (342) nmol/l (range 536 - 1 675 nmol/l). Twenty-eight patients (93.3%) had an appropriate rise of cortisol to greater than 550 nmol/l following 250 µg ACTH stimulation. Two patients (6.7%) had mild primary adrenal failure with a peak cortisol between 500 and 550 nmol/l associated with a raised plasma ACTH concentration (131.4 and 10.5 pmol/l, normal 2.2 - 10 pmol/l). Twenty-eight patients (92.9%) were normonatraemic, while the two hyponatraemic patients had biochemical evidence of the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion. Conclusion. In conclusion, despite evidence that the adrenal glands of patients with disseminated bronchogenic carcinoma are frequently affected by metastatic disease, biochemical evidence of clinically significant hypoadrenalism is relatively uncommon and is not accurately predicted by electrolyte abnormalities.