For Terminally Ill, Stopping Statins May Help

Late stage cancer and other terminal patients may benefit from discontinuing cholesterol medications

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) People with advanced life-limiting illnesses typically take an increasing number of medications. At this stage, however, some treatments, such as statins, may be unnecessary.

When it comes to treating late-stage cancer or other terminal disease, patients have to weigh which medications are going to improve and possibly extend their lives. At this point, some therapies that they are taking may no longer be worth it.

Scientists have recently observed that those with advanced illness may improve their quality of life, save money and possibly live a little longer by stopping cholesterol-lowering statins.

"Ask your doctor if all of your medications are necessary."

Jean Kutner, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver and investigator with the University of Colorado Cancer Center and the Palliative Care Research Cooperative Group, and colleagues followed 381 patients who were considered unlikely to live more than a year.

These participants, who were all taking statins for at least three months, were randomly selected to either continue or discontinue taking their statin medications.

For up to a year, Dr. Kutner and team monitored patient survival, quality of life and cardiovascular events.

The median survival rate for the 192 individuals who continued taking statins was 190 days, while the 189 who stopped taking statins had a median survival of 229 days.

Patients who dropped statins from their regimen reported an improved quality of life, especially as their mental wellbeing was concerned.

As an added bonus, those who stopped statin use saved money over the course of the trial — about $716 dollars if they were taking brand name statins and $629 if they were taking generics.

Based on these figures, the researchers estimated that patients could save as much as $603 million a year total if statins were cut from the medication list of those with advanced life-limiting sickness.

Dr. Kutner pointed out that this study raised awareness among healthcare providers.

"One thing we found during the study was clinicians saying, 'Hey, I never thought about stopping people's statins,’" she said in a press release. “Here's a setting in which these drugs may not be doing most patients any good any more and bringing up the subject of stopping unneeded medications offers the opportunity for shared decision-making. There's power in individual choice.”

The results of this study were presented May 30 at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and will be presented June 6 at the European Association of Palliative Care Research Conference. The research has been submitted for publication in The New England Journal of Medicine. The National Institute of Nursing Research provided funding.

Review Date: 
May 30, 2014
Last Updated:
June 1, 2014