Methods: We conducted an international, retrospective, cohort study (NAPACA Outcome) at 30 centres in 16 countries. Eligible patients were aged 18 years or older with an adrenal incidentaloma (diameter ≥1 cm) detected between Jan 1, 1996, and Dec 31, 2015, and availability of a 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test result from the time of the initial diagnosis. Patients with clinically apparent hormone excess, active malignancy, or follow-up of less than 36 months were excluded. Patients were stratified according to the 0800–0900 h serum cortisol values after an overnight 1 mg dexamethasone suppression test; less than 50 nmol/L was classed as non-functioning adenoma, 50–138 nmol/L as possible autonomous cortisol secretion, and greater than 138 nmol/L as autonomous cortisol secretion. The primary endpoint was all-cause mortality. Secondary endpoints were the prevalence of cardiometabolic comorbidities, cardiovascular events, and cause-specific mortality. The primary and secondary endpoints were assessed in all study participants.
Findings: Of 4374 potentially eligible patients, 3656 (2089 [57·1%] with non-functioning adenoma, 1320 [36·1%] with possible autonomous cortisol secretion, and 247 [6·8%] with autonomous cortisol secretion) were included in the study cohort for mortality analysis (2350 [64·3%] women and 1306 [35·7%] men; median age 61 years [IQR 53–68]; median follow-up 7·0 years [IQR 4·7–10·2]). During follow-up, 352 (9·6%) patients died. All-cause mortality (adjusted for age, sex, comorbidities, and previous cardiovascular events) was significantly increased in patients with possible autonomous cortisol secretion (HR 1·52, 95% CI 1·19–1·94) and autonomous cortisol secretion (1·77, 1·20–2·62) compared with patients with non-functioning adenoma. In women younger than 65 years, autonomous cortisol secretion was associated with higher all-cause mortality than non-functioning adenoma (HR 4·39, 95% CI 1·93–9·96), although this was not observed in men. Cardiometabolic comorbidities were significantly less frequent with non-functioning adenoma than with possible autonomous cortisol secretion and autonomous cortisol secretion (hypertension occurred in 1186 [58·6%] of 2024 patients with non-functioning adenoma, 944 [74·0%] of 1275 with possible autonomous cortisol secretion, and 179 [75·2%] of 238 with autonomous cortisol secretion; dyslipidaemia occurred in 724 [36·2%] of 1999 patients, 547 [43·8%] of 1250, and 123 [51·9%] of 237; and any diabetes occurred in 365 [18·2%] of 2002, 288 [23·0%] of 1250, and 62 [26·7%] of 232; all p values <0·001).
Interpretation: Cortisol autonomy is associated with increased all-cause mortality, particularly in women younger than 65 years. However, until results from randomised interventional trials are available, a conservative therapeutic approach seems to be justified in most patients with adrenal incidentaloma.
Funding: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro, Università di Torino.