Elective surgery for gastrointestinal tumours in the elderly

R. A. Audisio, P. Veronesi, L. Ferrario, C. Cipolla, B. Andreoni, M. Aapro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The geriatric population is expanding and clinical decision-making is often complicated by the effects of ageing. Age should not be the only parameter considered when addressing medical problems. Elderly subjects have been denied surgery because of their presumed higher mortality and morbidity. The present review summarises the physiology of the aged and discusses operative risks, mortality and morbidity rates as well as therapeutic results for the different gastrointestinal sites when affected by cancer. Reports on surgical treatments are revisited and compared to the same procedures delivered to younger patients in the context of the ethical issue of offering the best care to every patient. Elective operations by surgical oncologists are found to be safe with the exception of major liver resections. Complication rates and mean hospital stay do not differ between the two age groups provided the procedure is conducted with the best-known technique in expert hands. A drop in operative morbidity has occurred in the past three decades. Several investigators have emphasised the marked increase in morbidity and mortality experienced by elderly patients when undergoing emergency procedures. Associated diseases have to be properly assessed, as the elderly have a frail physiological balance with a reduced capacity for recovery from traumatic events including major surgical procedures. Careful preoperative evaluation, intraoperative conduct and postoperative care are presently achieved in almost every major hospital. Good clinical practice is based on the balance between probability of cure and toxic effects. Treatment of the elderly should no longer be based on untested beliefs and personal opinions. The elderly should be accrued for prospective clinical evaluation and should not be denied optimal surgical treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-326
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of Oncology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1997


  • Abdominal surgery
  • Cancer in the elderly
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Liver surgery
  • Neoplasms
  • Surgical oncology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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