, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 535–544 | Cite as

Two types of ectopic Cushing syndrome or a continuum? Review

  • Marta Araujo CastroEmail author
  • Mónica Marazuela Azpiroz



Two types of ectopic Cushing syndrome (ECS) are described: ECS associated with aggressive neoplasms, and ECS with indolent and occult tumors, however, there is a lack of studies that thoroughly review their characteristics.


A systematic review was carried out on PUBMED of all the papers about the ECS, in order to better define the types of this subcategory of Cushing’s syndrome, highlighting the differential aspects between these subgroups.


It was found that in 50% of cases the prototypic “aggressive” ECS is caused by small cell lung carcinomas (SCLC). In these cases, the clinical presentation may be atypical, predominating the signs and symptoms derived from the protein catabolism. Cortisol and ACTH levels are extremely high, the clinical presentation is abrupt (< 3–6 months) and the tumor is usually advanced, being impossible a curative treatment. On the other hand, “indolent” ECS is mainly represented by carcinoid tumors (CT). In these cases the clinical presentation overlaps enormously with that of Cushing’s disease (CD). Cortisol and ACTH levels are slightly elevated, the clinical presentation is progressive (> 6 months) and the prognosis is usually good, and a curative treatment is possible in about 75% of the cases.


Although there is no absolute differentiation between the two extremes of ECS, a classification could be established in two groups, guided by its clinical and biochemical characteristics, and mainly by the type and stage of the ACTH-secreting tumor. However, a small percentage of tumors do not fit in this simple grouping, and may present both phenotypes or an intermediate one.


Ectopic Cushing syndrome Hypercortisolism Paraneoplastic Carcinoid tumor 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department EndocrinologyHospital Universitario de la PrincesaMadridSpain
  2. 2.Department EndocrinologyHospital Universitario Rey Juan CarlosMadridSpain

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