A major study of operations performed in Australian and New Zealand hospitals has found that one in 20 elderly people died within a month of their procedure.
The study's lead researcher, David Story, says that while the figure seems high, advances in technology and technique have increasingly made surgery an option for older and sicker patients.
More than 4000 patients over the age of 70 took part in the project, run by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists.
The study found that one in five suffered a serious complication from surgery but that half had an existing illness which was a factor in developing complications after surgery.
Mr Story says a more individualised focus is needed for elderly people before, during and after operations.