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01.12.2017 | Case Report | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Diagnostic Pathology 1/2017

Case report: ACTH-secreting pituitary carcinoma metastatic to the liver in a patient with a history of atypical pituitary adenoma and Cushing’s disease

Diagnostic Pathology > Ausgabe 1/2017
Amy S. Joehlin-Price, Douglas A. Hardesty, Christina A. Arnold, Lawrence S. Kirschner, Daniel M. Prevedello, Norman L. Lehman



Pituitary carcinoma is a rare entity requiring the presence of metastasis to confirm its malignant potential. We report a case of pituitary carcinoma and discuss the diagnosis and management of this lesion in relation to the existing literature.

Case presentation

The patient is a 51-year-old woman with Cushing’s disease and intact adrenal glands who was diagnosed with metastatic pituitary carcinoma to the liver, 29 months after initial resection of an ACTH-secreting primary atypical pituitary adenoma (APA). Prior to detection of this metastasis the patient underwent repeat resection and radiotherapy for residual cavernous sinus disease. The metastatic lesion was detected by interval surveillance of serum ACTH and 24-hour urine cortisol, which despite stable pituitary MRI, were significantly elevated. These abnormalities prompted a PET scan that demonstrated hypermetabolic liver parenchyma, which was suspicious for metastasis on abdominal MRI. An ultrasound-guided liver biopsy demonstrated nests of moderately-differentiated cells with intermediate-sized, monotonous nuclei, distinct nucleoli, and abundant basophilic cytoplasm, confirmed by immunohistochemistry to represent metastatic pituitary carcinoma. The liver lesion was subsequently successfully removed by wedge resection. One year later, the patient’s residual cavernous sinus disease grew markedly, and she was placed on dual-agent chemotherapy consisting of oral temozolomide and capecitabine, with stabilization of her intracranial disease to present, although liver metastases recurred.


Pituitary carcinoma is a rare entity impossible to recognize as a primary tumor because its diagnosis by definition requires the presence of metastasis. Maintaining awareness of the entity and its precursor lesion APA is essential for its accurate pathologic diagnosis and appropriate management.
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