FRIDAY, June 26, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins might help reduce major complications after lung surgery, new research suggests.
Statins have been linked to fewer complications after heart surgery, and researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City theorized they might also benefit patients undergoing major lung surgery.
The researchers randomly assigned more than 160 study participants to receive the statin Lipitor (atorvastatin) or an inactive placebo before and after lung resection -- removal of part of the lung. Complications -- such as pneumonia, heart attack and acute respiratory failure -- were reported in 22 percent of patients receiving placebo, compared with 12 percent taking statins.
Statins were also linked to a nearly 50 percent reduction in post-surgery rates of atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm), the researchers said.
While the results are encouraging, they were not statistically significant. However, a subsequent analysis revealed an encouraging trend. The combined rates of major lung and heart complications in those undergoing surgery were three times higher in the placebo group than in the statin group, according to the study published in the June issue of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.
The study originally called for the enrollment of 480 patients. Due to difficulty finding people who had never taken statins, however, the study only included 164 participants and ended early, the authors noted in a news release from the American Association for Thoracic Surgery.
"Imagine all the people who could potentially have benefited from the knowledge gained by this trial had it accrued as originally intended," said Dr. Betty Tong, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and author of an editorial accompanying the report.
With continued clinical trials at multiple centers, "we will be able to elucidate further the role of therapies such as this in preventing complications after lung resection," Tong said in the news release.
The study authors said a larger controlled study is needed to further investigate the potential benefits of statins for lung surgery patients before recommending them as standard clinical practice.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on statins.