Urine Steroid Metabolomics as a Biomarker Tool for Detecting Malignancy in Adrenal Tumors

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Abstract

Context:

Adrenal tumors have a prevalence of around 2% in the general population. Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is rare but accounts for 2–11% of incidentally discovered adrenal masses. Differentiating ACC from adrenocortical adenoma (ACA) represents a diagnostic challenge in patients with adrenal incidentalomas, with tumor size, imaging, and even histology all providing unsatisfactory predictive values.

Objective:

Here we developed a novel steroid metabolomic approach, mass spectrometry-based steroid profiling followed by machine learning analysis, and examined its diagnostic value for the detection of adrenal malignancy.

Design:

Quantification of 32 distinct adrenal derived steroids was carried out by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry in 24-h urine samples from 102 ACA patients (age range 19–84 yr) and 45 ACC patients (20–80 yr). Underlying diagnosis was ascertained by histology and metastasis in ACC and by clinical follow-up [median duration 52 (range 26–201) months] without evidence of metastasis in ACA. Steroid excretion data were subjected to generalized matrix learning vector quantization (GMLVQ) to identify the most discriminative steroids.

Results:

Steroid profiling revealed a pattern of predominantly immature, early-stage steroidogenesis in ACC. GMLVQ analysis identified a subset of nine steroids that performed best in differentiating ACA from ACC. Receiver-operating characteristics analysis of GMLVQ results demonstrated sensitivity = specificity = 90% (area under the curve = 0.97) employing all 32 steroids and sensitivity = specificity = 88% (area under the curve = 0.96) when using only the nine most differentiating markers.

Conclusions:

Urine steroid metabolomics is a novel, highly sensitive, and specific biomarker tool for discriminating benign from malignant adrenal tumors, with obvious promise for the diagnostic work-up of patients with adrenal incidentalomas.

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