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Stopping Statins Beneficial For Terminally Ill Patients

Update Date: May 31, 2014 06:19 PM EDT

People who are in late stages of cancer and other terminal illness are not only unharmed by discontinuing statins for cholesterol management, but also might be benefited, a new study has reported. 

According to the study discontinuing statins in patients with advanced illnesses resulted in improved overall quality of life, lower costs and no increased deaths.

Further the study suggested that patients who stopped taking statins appeared to live slightly longer. 

"When you look at the number of medications people take when they are dying, it doubles in the last year of life," said lead author Amy Abernethy, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Learning Health Care at the Duke Clinical Research Institute and a member of the Duke Cancer Institute. Abernethy represented the Palliative Care Research Cooperative Group, a national research network focused on improving care for people with serious illnesses, in the press release. 

"Cancer patients, for example, take medications for pain, nausea and other problems associated with advanced disease," Abernethy said. "Many don't have an appetite, and simply swallowing medications can be a problem. So the issue is whether some longstanding medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs might be safely discontinued, but there has been little research to help guide clinicians in making that recommendation."

The study also reported that as much as $603 million a year could be saved if patients in the late stages of fatal illnesses were to cut statins. The approximation was based on U.S. population estimates. 

"This is a decision that needs to be discussed between patients and their doctors; it's not something that should be done independently or in a one-size-fits-all manner," Abernethy added in the press release. "But our study found that patients who discontinued statins reported improvements in quality of life. This runs counter to the idea that discontinuing a treatment would cause people to somehow feel as if they were getting less care or inadequate care."

The findings were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

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