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Estrogen-secreting adrenocortical tumor in a postmenopausal woman: a challenging diagnosis

L M Mermejo 1F G Carvalho 1C A F Molina 2S Tucci 2V F Muglia 3J Elias 3P C L Elias 1M Castro 1A C Moreira 1

Endocrinol Diabetes Metab Case Rep. 2021 Mar 15;2021:20-0214. doi: 10.1530/EDM-20-0214. 


Summary: Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is a malignant disorder with rapid evolution and severe prognosis in adults and most produce cortisol and androgen. Estrogen-secreting adrenocortical carcinomas are extremely rare, especially in women, tend to be larger and have worse prognosis compared with other types of ACCs. We report the case of a 58-year-old woman who presented with bilateral breast enlargement and postmenopausal genital bleeding. She presented high estradiol (818 pg/mL – 25 times above upper normal limit for postmenopausal women) and testosterone (158 ng/dL – 2 times above upper normal limit) levels and no suppression of cortisol after overnight 1 mg dexamethasone test (12.5 µg/dL; normal reference value: < 1.8 µg/dL). The patient had no clinical features of cortisol excess. MRI showed a 12 cm tumor in the right adrenal. Clinical findings of bilateral breast enlargement and postmenopausal genital bleeding with no signs of hypercortisolism associated with hormonal findings of elevated estradiol and testosterone levels would indicate either an ovarian etiology or an adrenal etiology; however, in the context of plasma cortisol levels non-suppressive after dexamethasone test and the confirmation of an adrenal tumor by MRI, the diagnosis of an adrenal tumor with mixed hormonal secretion was made. The patient underwent an open right adrenalectomy and pathological examination revealed an ACC with a Weiss’ score of 6. Estradiol and testosterone levels decreased to normal range soon after surgery. She was put on mitotane treatment as adjuvant therapy, but due to side effects, we were unable to up-titrate the dose and she never achieved serum mitotane dosage above the desired 14 µg/mL. The patient remained in good health without any local recurrence or metastasis until 5 years after surgery, when increased levels of estradiol (81 pg/mL – 2.5 times above upper normal limit) and testosterone (170 ng/dL – 2.1 times above upper normal limit) were detected. MRI revealed a retroperitoneal nodule measuring 1.8 × 1.2 cm. The pathological finding confirmed the recurrence of the estrogen-secreting ACC with a Weiss’ score of 6. After the second procedure, patient achieved normal estrogen and androgen serum levels and since then she has been followed for 3 years. The overall survival was 8 years after the diagnosis. In conclusion, although extremely rare, a diagnosis of an estrogen-secreting ACC should be considered as an etiology in postmenopausal women presenting with bilateral breast enlargement, genital bleeding and increased pure or prevailing estrogen secretion.

Learning points: Estrogen-secreting adrenocortical carcinomas are exceedingly rare in adults and account for 1-2% of adrenocortical carcinomas. Estrogen-secreting adrenal tumors can be present in females, but are even more rare, we found few cases described in the literature. In women, they present with precocious puberty or postmenopausal bleeding. Feminization in the context of an adrenal tumor is considered almost pathognomonic of malignancy. Feminizing ACCs tend to be larger and with worse prognosis compared with nonfeminizing ACCs.