Stopping Statins May Extend Terminal Patients’ Lives

New research suggests that patients in the late stages of cancer or other terminal illnesses may be able to prolong their lives by discontinuing use of statins, the drugs typically used to lower blood cholesterol levels.

A team including investigators from the University of Colorado Cancer Center, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina say their findings address the question of when terminally ill patients could benefit from stopping medications for other conditions that will not cause death.

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In their study, the researchers enrolled 381 patients who had a high likelihood of dying within 1 year; all of whom had been taking statins for at least 3 months. For the study, however, half of the participants were randomized to continue taking statins, while the other half was instructed to discontinue use. Researchers followed the patients for up to 1 year, in order to monitor their survival, cardiovascular events, and changes in quality of life.

The investigators found the median survival rate was 190 days among the 192 patients who continued taking statins, while the 192 patients who stopped taking statins had a median survival of 229 days.

In addition, the patients who ceased taking statins reported a better quality of life, especially in terms of psychological well-being. Researchers also reported saving $716 per person for name-brand drugs during the study, and $629 per patient for generic drugs.

“If a trial of a new drug [produced] these findings—improved quality of life, no survival difference, slight cost savings—then doctors would be clamoring to figure out whether their patients [were] appropriate for the drug,” says Donald H. Taylor Jr., PhD, an associate professor of public policy at Duke University, and a co-author of the study.

“In the same way, primary care physicians need to be asking whether a given patient is ready to consider stopping a statin.”

The findings were presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology, held May 30 – June 3, 2014, in Chicago, Ill.

—Mark McGraw