Hypoglycemia in malignancy is well known with several etiologies; impaired liver function, insulin receptor autoantibodies, production of insulin-like substance by malignant cells or large tumor burden. Another possible mechanism is the Warburg effect where metabolism shifts towards glycolytic pathways over oxidative phosphorylation even under aerobic conditions leading to excess lactate production. This leads to glucose consumption due to shunting of glucose away from normal cells to cancer cells. Very few cases of lactic acidosis and severe hypoglycemia in Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma have been described in the literature. We report such an unusual case here.
A 52-year-old, African-American male was admitted for severe malnutrition with 80 lb. weight loss, severe hypoglycemia and progressively increasing right chest wall mass. On arrival, he had no classic symptoms of hypoglycemia. Physical exam revealed persistent tachycardia, white patches on oral mucosa and posterior tongue, and an indurated mass on right chest wall with extensive swelling of right upper limb. Lab work was significant for blood glucose (BG) of 41 mg/dL (60–100), lactate 16 mmol/L (0.5 to 2), anion gap 26 mEq/L (3–10), albumin 2.3 g/dL (3.4 to 5.4) and normal renal and liver function tests. Fingerstick sugar readings were persistently in the 20s with no response to multiple boluses of dextrose and glucagon. He was started on dextrose 5% (D5) drip and intravenous solumedrol. Solumedrol was weaned off and D5 titrated down to investigate causes of hypoglycemia. BG dropped to 39 and corresponding labs showed insulin level of < 2 mcUnit/mL (2–20), C-peptide of 0.2 ng/mL (0.8–6.0) and ketone level of 0.2 mmol/L (<0.4). IGF-1 and IGF-2 were both low at 26 ng/mL (61–200) and 113 ng/mL (333–967) respectively. A CT torso with contrast showed bilateral pleural effusions, moderate pericardial effusions and a large ill-defined heterogeneous mass along anterior chest wall. He underwent ultrasound guided biopsy of the chest wall mass and diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. He also tested positive for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. PET scan showed diffuse FDG (fluorodeoxyglucose) uptake consistent with advanced disease. He was started on chemotherapy and lactate and BG normalized soon after 1st cycle.
In our case; suppressed insulin, low C-peptide and IGF-2 levels indicate non-insulin mediated hypoglycemia due to rapid glucose utilization by cancer cells. Severe hypoglycemia with lack of neuroglycopenic symptoms suggests use of lactate (rather than glucose) as an alternative metabolic fuel for brain, thus preserving its function. Our patient presented with an exaggerated Warburg effect (hyper-Warburgism) as evident by extreme glucose consumption, severe lactic acidosis and large tumor burden on FDG/PET. Chemotherapy must be instituted timely to correct these abnormalities.