This study was carried out to determine the perioperative mortality rate of patients over the age of 65 years who are undergoing major head and neck resections under general anesthesia. The total number of patients was 810 and the perioperative mortality rate (death within 30 days of operation) was 3.5 percent (29 of 810). This rate is relatively low when compared with the rate for patients undergoing similar procedures during the same period in the 35 to 65 years age group. Since 1975 reports of other types of surgery in the elderly have given perioperative mortality rates of from 4.8 to 26 percent. Previous studies of head and neck surgery in the elderly have given perioperative mortality rates of from 1.3 to 13.6 percent. Head and neck surgery in the elderly continues to be a safe procedure when compared with other types of surgery. As the portion of patients in the population over the age of 65 continues to increase, advanced age alone should not be a deterrent to performing aggressive surgical therapy for head and neck cancer.
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