Excess mortality among people with endogenous Cushing syndrome (CS) has declined in the past 20 years yet remains three times higher than in the general population, new research finds.
Among more than 90,000 individuals with endogenous CS, the overall proportion of mortality ― defined as the ratio of the number of deaths from CS divided by the total number of CS patients ― was 0.05, and the standardized mortality rate was an "unacceptable" three times that of the general population, Padiporn Limumpornpetch, MD, reported on March 20 at ENDO 2021: The Endocrine Society Annual Meeting.
Excess deaths were higher among those with adrenal CS compared to those with Cushing disease. The most common causes of death among those with CS were cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular accident, infection, and malignancy, noted Limumpornpetch, of Songkla University, Hat Yai, Thailand, who is also a PhD student at the University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom.
"While mortality has improved since 2000, it is still significantly compromised compared to the background population.... The causes of death highlight the need for aggressive management of cardiovascular risk, prevention of thromboembolism, infection control, and a normalized cortisol level," she said.
Asked to comment, Maria Fleseriu, MD, told Medscape Medical News that the new data show "we are making improvements in the care of patients with CS and thus outcomes, but we are not there yet.... This meta-analysis highlights the whole spectrum of acute and life-threatening complications in CS and their high prevalence, even before disease diagnosis and after successful surgery."
She noted that although she wasn't surprised by the overall results, "the improvement over time was indeed lower than I expected. However, interestingly here, the risk of mortality in adrenal Cushing was unexpectedly high despite patients with adrenal cancer being excluded."
Fleseriu, who is director of the Pituitary Center at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon, advised, "Management of hyperglycemia and diabetes, hypertension, hypokalemia, hyperlipidemia, and other cardiovascular risk factors is generally undertaken in accordance with standard of clinical care.
"But we should focus more on optimizing more aggressively this care in addition to the specific Cushing treatment," she stressed.
In addition, she noted, "Medical therapy for CS may be needed even prior to surgery in severe and/or prolonged hypercortisolism to decrease complications.... We definitely need a multidisciplinary approach to address complications and etiologic treatment as well as the reduced long-term quality of life in patients with CS."
Largest Study in Scale and Scope of Cushing Syndrome Mortality
Endogenous Cushing syndrome occurs when the body overproduces cortisol. The most common cause of the latter is a tumor of the pituitary gland (Cushing disease), but another cause is a usually benign tumor of the adrenal glands (adrenal Cushing syndrome). Surgery is the mainstay of initial treatment of Cushing syndrome. If an operation to remove the tumor fails to cause remission, medications are available.
Prior to this new meta-analysis, there had been limited data on mortality among patients with endogenous CS. Research has mostly been limited to single-cohort studies. A previous systematic review/meta-analysis comprised only seven articles with 780 patients. All the studies were conducted prior to 2012, and most were limited to Cushing disease.
"In 2021, we lacked a detailed understanding of patient outcomes and mortality because of the rarity of Cushing syndrome," Limumpornpetch noted.
The current meta-analysis included 91 articles that reported mortality among patients with endogenous CS. There was a total of 19,181 patients from 92 study cohorts, including 49 studies on CD (n = 14,971), 24 studies on adrenal CS (n = 2304), and 19 studies that included both CS types (n = 1906).
Among 21 studies that reported standardized mortality rate (SMR) data, including 13 CD studies (n = 2160) and seven on adrenal CS (n = 1531), the overall increase in mortality compared to the background population was a significant 3.00 (range, 1.15 – 7.84).
This SMR was higher among patients with adrenal Cushing syndrome (3.3) vs Cushing disease (2.8) (P = .003) and among patients who had active disease (5.7) vs those whose disease was in remission (2.3) (P < .001).
The SMR also was worse among patients with Cushing disease with larger tumors (macroadenomas), at 7.4, than among patients with very small tumors (microadenomas), at 1.9 (P = .004).
The proportion of death was 0.05 for CS overall, with 0.04 for CD and 0.02 for adrenal adenomas.
Compared to studies published prior to the year 2000, more recent studies seem to reflect advances in treatment and care. The overall proportion of death for all CS cohorts dropped from 0.10 to 0.03 (P < .001); for all CD cohorts, it dropped from 0.14 to 0.03; and for adrenal CS cohorts, it dropped from 0.09 to 0.03 (P = .04).
Causes of death were cardiovascular diseases (29.5% of cases), cerebrovascular accident (11.5%), infection (10.5%), and malignancy (10.1%). Less common causes of death were gastrointestinal bleeding and acute pancreatitis (3.7%), active CS (3.5%), adrenal insufficiency (2.5%), suicide (2.5%), and surgery (1.6%).
Overall, in the CS groups, the proportion of deaths within 30 days of surgery dropped from 0.04 prior to 2000 to 0.01 since (P = .07). For CD, the proportion dropped from 0.02 to 0.01 (P = .25).
Preventing Perioperative Mortality: Consider Thromboprophylaxis
Fleseriu told Medscape Medical News that she believes hypercoagulability is "the least recognized complication with a big role in mortality." Because most of the perioperative mortality is due to venous thromboembolism and infections, "thromboprophylaxis should be considered for CS patients with severe hypercortisolism and/or postoperatively, based on individual risk factors of thromboembolism and bleeding."
Recently, Fleseriu's group showed in a single retrospective study that the risk for arterial and venous thromboembolic events among patients with CS was approximately 20%. Many patients experienced more than one event. Risk was higher 30 to 60 days postoperatively.
The odds ratio of venous thromoboembolism among patients with CS was 18 times higher than in the normal population.
"Due to the additional thrombotic risk of surgery or any invasive procedure, anticoagulation prophylaxis should be at least considered in all patients with Cushing syndrome and balanced with individual bleeding risk," Fleseriu advised.
A recent Pituitary Society workshop discussed the management of complications of CS at length; proceedings will be published soon, she noted.
Limumpornpetch commented, "We look forward to the day when our interdisciplinary approach to managing these challenging patients can deliver outcomes similar to the background population."
Limumpornpetch has disclosed no relevant financial relationships. Fleseriu has been a scientific consultant to Recordati, Sparrow, and Strongbridge and has received grants (inst) from Novartis and Strongbridge.
ENDO 2021: The Endocrine Society Annual Meeting: Presented March 20, 2021
Miriam E. Tucker is a freelance journalist based in the Washington, DC, area. She is a regular contributor to Medscape. Other work of hers has appeared in the Washington Post, NPR's Shots blog, and Diabetes Forecast magazine. She can be found on Twitter @MiriamETucker.
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Cite this: Cushing Death Rate 'Unacceptable,' Triple That of General Population - Medscape - Apr 14, 2021.