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Patients who were expected to live less than a year didn't die any sooner after they stopped taking the drugs, and researchers report that their overall quality of life improved.
"Many doctors argue that, near the end of life, it is not necessary to continue medications for chronic illnesses that are not life-threatening. But we have no guidance on what medicines to stop and when to do so," study author Dr. Amy Abernethy, a medical oncologist and palliative care specialist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., said in a Duke news release. "Our study provides the first evidence that stopping statins is safe and improves patient quality of life."
It can be helpful to reduce medications in the final year of life because terminally ill patients often have little appetite and difficulty swallowing. Medications can also cause side effects, especially when they interact with other drugs.
The researchers tracked 381 patients who had a life expectancy of a year or less and had been taking statins for at least three months. The patients were randomly assigned to continue taking the drugs or stop taking them.
The investigators found that stopping the drugs made little difference in terms of heart problems. Those who stopped taking statins actually lived longer (an average of 229 days compared to 190 days among those who didn't stop the drugs).
"Discontinuing chronically administered medications near the end of life has limited study," cancer researcher Dr. Patricia Ganz said in a statement provided by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). "However, now we have evidence that discontinuing certain medications is safe, specifically in the case of the widely prescribed statin drugs, and can improve quality of life for patients."
The study is to be presented June 3 at the ASCO annual meeting, in Chicago. The data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
-- Randy Dotinga
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SOURCE: Duke University Medical Center, news release, May 30, 2014