Prospective evaluation of late-night salivary cortisol and cortisone by EIA and LC-MS/MS in suspected Cushing syndrome


Endocrine Research Laboratory, Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center, Advocate Aurora Research Institute


Context: Late-night salivary cortisol (LNSC) measured by enzyme immunoassay (EIA-F) is a first-line screening test for Cushing syndrome (CS) with a reported sensitivity and specificity of >90%. However, liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, validated to measure salivary cortisol (LCMS-F) and cortisone (LCMS-E), has been proposed to be superior diagnostically.

Objective Setting and Main Outcome Measures: Prospectively evaluate the diagnostic performance of EIA-F, LCMS-F, and LCMS-E in 1453 consecutive late-night saliva samples from 705 patients with suspected CS.

Design: Patients grouped by the presence or absence of at least one elevated salivary steroid result and then subdivided by diagnosis.

Results: We identified 283 patients with at least one elevated salivary result; 45 had an established diagnosis of neoplastic hypercortisolism (CS) for which EIA-F had a very high sensitivity (97.5%). LCMS-F and LCMS-E had lower sensitivity but higher specificity than EIA-F. EIA-F had poor sensitivity (31.3%) for adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-independent CS (5 patients with at least 1 and 11 without any elevated salivary result). In patients with Cushing disease (CD), most nonelevated LCMS-F results were in patients with persistent/recurrent CD; their EIA-F levels were lower than in patients with newly diagnosed CD.

Conclusions: Since the majority of patients with ≥1 elevated late-night salivary cortisol or cortisone result did not have CS, a single elevated level has poor specificity and positive predictive value. LNSC measured by EIA is a sensitive test for ACTH-dependent Cushing syndrome but not for ACTH-independent CS. We suggest that neither LCMS-F nor LCMS-E improves the sensitivity of late-night EIA-F for CS.

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