Taking statins before any type of surgery could reduce the risk of post-operative death by almost half, new research suggests.
A study of 15,000 patients undergoing different types of procedures found that those taking the cheap cholesterol-busting drugs were 43pc less likely to die in the month after surgery and significantly less likely to suffer complications.
Cardiac experts said that, in future, the drugs might be doled out to anyone who was about to go under the knife because of the protective effect the pills seem to offer.
In Britain, where the research was undertaken, about seven million people are already taking statins, a figure that is predicted to rise to 12 million, following recent guidance which recommends the drugs for far more people at risk of heart disease.
Under the latest advice, one in four adults are eligible for the pills, which reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Researchers at Imperial College looked back at 29 trials involving more than 80,000 patients taking the cholesterol lowering drugs.
Earlier this year, a major study by Stanford University found the drugs could also halve patients' risks of dying from cancer.
The new research found that those taking statins and undergoing non-cardiac surgery, such as hip replacements, had far lower death rates - and levels of complications - than those who were not taking the drugs.
Statins are already routinely taken by most patients who have planned heart surgery.
The findings, presented to the European Society of Cardiology's annual meeting in London, showed that among those undergoing other types of operations, those on statins had death rates 43pc lower, within 30 days, with a 52pc reduction in deaths from cardiovascular causes.
Rates of complication were 17pc lower, with levels of heart injury reduced by 14pc.
Dr Philip Devereux, from McMaster University in Canada, chairman of the study's steering committee, said the findings suggested that statins could protect millions of people undergoing surgery - but said it was too early to make this formal advice.
"Among the 200 million adults worldwide who undergo non-cardiac surgery annually, more than ten million will suffer a cardiovascular complication in the first 30 days after surgery," he said.
"Our findings suggest that statins are a potentially beneficial intervention to prevent cardiovascular complications in patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery...'
Dr Otavio Berwanger, of the Hospital do Coração (Heart Hospital) in São Paulo, Brazil, who presented the study, said: "In a representative sample of patients undergoing noncardiac surgery, preoperative statin therapy was independently associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular complications at 30 days."
He said the findings were consistent with small randomised trials and other observational research.
"Our findings suggest that statins are a potentially beneficial intervention to prevent cardiovascular complications in patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery," he said.
"Despite the magnitude of the problem, no intervention has been shown to be both safe and effective in the prevention of cardiovascular complications such as heart attack, death due to cardiac causes and stroke.
"Our finding of reduced major cardiac complications and all-cause mortality after noncardiac surgery in patients taking statins suggests that there may be a new indication for this drug."
He called for further research in a definitive randomised study before recommendations were issued.
The findings were taken from The Vascular events In noncardiac Surgery patients cohort evaluation (VISION) Study - a large international, prospective, cohort study evaluating major complications after cardiac surgery.
In total, researchers evaluated 15,478 patients over 45 who had non-cardiac surgery in eight countries between 2007 and 2011.
Two groups of "matched" patients were then selected, with 2,845 patients on statins and 4,492 who were not.
(©Daily Telegraph London)