Feature

Never too late to operate? Surgery near end of life is common, costly


 


More than 12% of defibrillators were implanted in people older than 80, according to a 2015 study. Doctors implant about 158,000 of the devices each year, according to the American College of Cardiology. The total cost of the procedure runs about $60,000.

Procedures performed in the elderly range from major operations that require lengthy recoveries to relatively minor surgery performed in a doctor’s office, such as the removal of nonfatal skin cancers, that would likely never cause any problems.

Research led by Eleni Linos, MD, has shown that people with limited life expectancies are treated for nonfatal skin cancers as aggressively as younger patients. Among patients with a nonfatal skin cancer and a limited time to live, 70 percent underwent surgery, according to her 2013 study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

When less is more

Surgery poses serious risks for older people, who weather anesthesia poorly and whose skin takes longer to heal. Among seniors who undergo urgent or emergency abdominal surgery, 20% die within 30 days, studies show.

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