• Vol. 27 No. 5, 712–716
  • 15 September 1998

Occult Virilizing Ovarian Tumours in Postmenopausal Women: Problems in Evaluation with Reference to a Case



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A 53-year-old postmenopausal presented with hirsutism, acne, receding hairline, male-pattern baldness, and deepening of voice developing over the last five years. Her left ovary had been removed at the age of 38 years old for a benign cyst and vaginal hysterectomy was performed one year later for cervical carcinoma. She had taken premarin 0.625 mg daily since her surgeries. Initial hormonal studies revealed elevated serum concentrations of total testosterone 524 ng/dL (N: 6-86 ng/dL), free testosterone 20.9 pg/mL (N: 0.3-2.7 pg/mL), and 17-hydroxyprogesterone 270 ng/dL (N: <70 ng/dL); but normal baseline concentrations of dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, androstenedione, and cortisol. Computed tomographic (CT) scans of the adrenals and ultrasonography of the pelvis were negative. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen and pelvis similarly were non-revealing. She was given glucocorticoids without effect. Subsequently, retrograde selective venous sampling showed a marked testosterone gradient in the right ovarian vein. A laparoscopic right oophorectomy was performed and a 11 mm Leydig cell tumour of hilus cell type was detected on histologic examination. Postoperative testosterone levels returned to normal and she had slow regression of hirsutism. Our case illustrates that a virilizing ovarian neoplasm can be small and elude imaging studies. We suggest bilateral oophorectomy for postmenopausal women with severe recent-onset virilization and without Cushing’s syndrome and with normal adrenal imaging. This approach avoids unnecessary investigations and delays in definitive management.

A remarkable variety of endocrinologic disorders may cause virilization syndromes. This can pose a diagnostic dilemma to even the most experienced clinicians.

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