Critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency in cancer patients

Support Care Cancer. 2012 Jun;20(6):1159-67. doi: 10.1007/s00520-011-1191-z. Epub 2011 May 21.


Purpose: Critically ill cancer patients with sepsis represent a high-risk sub-group for the development of critical illness-related corticosteroid insufficiency (CIRCI); however, the incidence of CIRCI in this population is unknown. The purpose of this study was to determine the incidence of CIRCI in cancer patients with severe sepsis or septic shock.

Methods: A single-center, retrospective, observational study was conducted in a 52-bed medical-surgical intensive care unit of a National Cancer Institute-recognized academic oncology institution. Eighty-six consecutive patients with a diagnosis of severe sepsis or septic shock who received a high-dose 250-μg cosyntropin stimulation test were included. CIRCI was identified by a maximum delta serum cortisol of 9 μg/dL or less post cosyntropin.

Results: Overall, 59% (95% CI, 48-70%) of cancer patients with severe sepsis or septic shock were determined to have CIRCI. When compared to patients without CIRCI, patients with CIRCI had higher baseline serum cortisol (median, 26.3 versus 14.7 μg/dL; p = 0.002) and lower delta cortisol levels (median, 3.1 versus 12.5 μg/dL; p < 0.001). Mortality did not differ between the two groups. An inverse relationship was identified between baseline serum cortisol and maximum delta cortisol (maximum delta cortisol = -0.27 × baseline cortisol + 14.30; R (2) = 0.208, p < 0.001).

Conclusions: The incidence of CIRCI in cancer patients with severe sepsis or septic shock appears high. Further large-scale prospective trials are needed to confirm these findings.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Insufficiency / diagnosis
  • Adrenal Insufficiency / epidemiology
  • Adrenal Insufficiency / etiology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cosyntropin / administration & dosage
  • Critical Illness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sepsis / complications*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Shock, Septic / complications*
  • Young Adult


  • Cosyntropin
  • Hydrocortisone