Several studies backing up this "less-is-more" strategy, which can
also lower the cost of care, were presented on Friday at the
American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago.
Patients with breast cancer that has spread to the bone, for
instance, are often treated with monthly intravenous infusions of a
class of drugs known as bisphosphonates, such as zoledronic acid,
that protect against fractures and other bone problems. Zoledronic
acid is sold by Novartis AG under the brand name Zometa.
Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found that women
with breast cancer and bone metastasis can, after the first year of
monthly bisphosphonate treatment, safely scale back to receiving the
drug every three months. The change could lower the risk of kidney
problems as well as a rare, but serious side effect in which parts
of the jawbones weaken and die.
"We found that less frequent treatment may reduce the risk of
serious side effects, with added benefits in reduced patient
inconvenience and cost," lead study author Dr. Gabriel Hortobagyi
said in a statement.
A separate study funded by the National Institutes of Health found
that certain patients with head and neck cancer linked to the human
papillomavirus can safely receive lower-dose radiation therapy
without compromising their chances of survival.
This approach would spare many patients from debilitating, often
lifelong side effects of radiation treatment, such as trouble
swallowing, loss of taste and thyroid problems - but more long-term
follow up of patients is needed, said lead study author Dr. Anthony
Cmelak, a professor of radiation oncology at the Vanderbilt-Ingram
Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Another federally funded study showed that it is safe to stop the
use of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins in cancer
patients with a life expectancy of less than a year. It estimated
that the move would save around $603 million in the United States.
Commonly used statins include atorvastatin, sold by Pfizer under the
brand name Lipitor.
The study found that discontinuing statins, which are used to reduce
the risk of heart attack and stroke, did not shorten survival, but
did reduce incidence of cancer symptoms, including pain, depression,
nausea and tiredness.
"We now 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," Dr Patricia
Ganz, a Los Angeles hematologist and American Society of Clinical
Oncology expert, said in a statement.
(Reporting By Deena Beasley; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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