Cushing’s Disease – Quality of Life, Recurrence and Long-term Morbidity

European Endocrinology, 2015;11(1):34–8 DOI: http://doi.org/10.17925/EE.2015.11.01.34

Abstract:

Cushing’s disease (CD) is a rare disorder caused by an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary adenoma. Chronic exposure to hypercortisolism leads to significant morbidities, which may be only partially reversible after remission of the disease, as well as to impairment of the health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and an increase in mortality. Transsphenoidal surgery (TSS) is the treatment of choice, and recurrence rates vary widely, confirming the need for lifelong follow-up. This review summarises the studies performed on HRQoL, recurrence rates and morbidities in patients who have CD.
Keywords: Cushing’s disease, quality of life, recurrence, morbidity
Disclosure: Isabel Huguet, Georgia Ntali, Ashley Grossman and Niki Karavitaki have no conflicts of interest to declare. No funding was received in the publication of this article
Received: February 18, 2015 Accepted March 16, 2015
Correspondence: Isabel Huguet, Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, Churchill Hospital, Old Rd, Headington, Oxford, OX3 7LJ, UK. E: ihm.huguet@gmail.com

Open Access: This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any non-commercial use, distribution, adaptation and reproduction provided the original author(s) and source are given appropriate credit.

Cushing’s disease (CD) is a rare condition caused by an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-secreting pituitary adenoma. Chronic hypercortisolism is associated with the development of several morbidities that impair health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and contribute to an increased mortality rate.1–5 Obesity and metabolic alterations, hypertension and cardio-/ cerebrovascular complications, neuropsychiatric, muscle/skeletal, hypercoagulability/thromboembolism and immune consequences remain the most challenging.

Despite successful treatment of CD, a number of adverse consequences may persist long after cure or may even be irreversible. Moreover, the remission/cure criteria of CD vary between different studies, making comparison of the results difficult.

This paper aims to review and summarise the studies performed on HRQoL, recurrence rates and morbidities during long-term follow-up in patients who have CD.

Materials and Methods
The available literature was evaluated to address questions on HRQoL, recurrence and morbidities in CD. The literature search was conducted in two stages: (1) identification, review and inclusion of all the most relevant articles published in PubMed having the keywords CD, remission, cure, HRQoL and morbidities and (2) additional hand research conducted on the basis of bibliographies of identified articles, with articles referring to paediatric population and case reports excluded and with papers referring to Cushing’s syndrome (CS) reviewed and included only if presenting data on CD.

Quality of LifeHRQoL was initially assessed in CD patients using such generic measures as the Short Form (SF)-366 and the SF-127 and measures of specific symptoms associated with the disease, including the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).8 More recently, two disease-specific measures, the CushingQoL9 and the Tuebingen CD-2510,11 have been developed. Tables 1 and 2 present studies evaluating QoL using various questionnaires in CD patients having active disease or in remission.

Quality of life is significantly impaired not only in patients with active CD,9 but also in those in long-term remission,12,13 regardless of the presence of hormonal deficiencies9 or treatment strategies,14,15 and patients who have CS report more negative illness perceptions than do patients who have other acute or chronic conditions.16

Quality of Life Assessed by Generic Questionnaires
Lindholm et al. reported that patients in remission for more than 5 years after initial surgery scored significantly worse in all subscales of SF-36 except for mental health and bodily pain.17 van Aken et al. evaluated patients cured for a mean period of 13.6 years and showed that general perceived well-being was reduced compared with healthy controls for all subscales in SF-36 and the Nottingham Health Profile (NHP). Moreover, such patients scored worse in all subscales of fatigue (Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory [MFI]-20), anxiety and depression (HADS).18 In comparison with subjects having other pituitary adenomas, patients who had CD were the most severely affected in all parameters of the SF-36 questionnaire.8 Sonino et al. studied patients who had CS in remission (the majority of them had CD) for 1 to 3 years and found significantly higher scores in anxiety, depression, anger, hostility and psychotic symptoms in the Symptom Rating Test (SRT) questionnaire in comparison with healthy controls.19 When the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), SF-36 and the multidimensional body-self relations questionnaire (MBSRQ) were used, patients who had CD demonstrated lower QoL, lower body image perception and higher levels of depression compared with healthy controls, particularly in cases of persistent disease.15

Quality of Life Assessed with Disease-specific Questionnaires
Since 2008, two disease-specific questionnaires have been developed: CushingQoL and Tuebingen CD-25. The CushingQoL questionnaire was evaluated by Webb et al. in a multicentre European study. Active CD was associated with worse scores, but the presence of hypopituitarism or prior pituitary radiotherapy did not determine differences in the scores.9 Similarly, Santos et al. found that active CD patients scored worse on the CushingQoL questionnaire than did cured subjects.20 Wagenmakers et al. found that CD patients in remission without hormonal deficiencies scored significantly better than those having hormone deficiencies but significantly worse thanthe control group on 50 % of the items of the questionnaires.14 The Tuebingen CD-25 also demonstrated significant differences in all subscales and the total score between active CD patients and healthy controls.10,11

The post-operative improvement in HRQoL could be predicted by the presence of pre-operative HRQoL impairment, andyounger patients were more likely to improve. Patients without post-operative pituitary deficiencies improved significantly in the cognition scale.21,22

QoL does not change after short-term biochemical remission induced by medical therapy but may improve after sustained control of the hypercortisolism.23,24

To summarise, most of the results on HRQoL in CD derive from generic questionnaires raising concerns about how appropriate these are for the reliable and accurate assessment of the HRQoL of patients with this rare condition. Interestingly, despite the use of the same type of questionnaire in some studies, the subscales mainly affected show variation among them, suggesting that either CD affects several dimensions in QoL in a heterogeneous way in different patient groups, or these questionnaires are not specific enough. The newly developed questionnaires focus on important disease-specific aspects of the QoL, and their sensitivity in detecting changes renders them a very promising and useful tool in clinical practice.

Recurrence
Transsphenoidal surgery is the treatment of choice in CD, with immediate post-operative remission rates ranging from 59 % to 94 % and recurrence rates from 3 % to 46 %, both depending upon the definition criteria, the duration of follow-up, the number of patients studied and the inclusion of macroadenomas (see Table 3).2,25–29 A small number of studies have used undetectable or very low post-operative serum cortisol levels as a strict criterion of remission, but most have defined effective remission as the resolution of clinical features and the reversal of hypercortisolism (in serum or urine), along with the recovery of cortisol suppressibility on dexamethasone administration or a normal cortisol circadian rhythm. Predictors of remission in CD include age at diagnosis, presence of hypertension or diabetes,4,5 response to desmopressin testing,30 identification of tumour at surgery and an adenoma histology positive for ACTH.31–33

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Keywords: Cushing’s disease, quality of life, recurrence, morbidity