As the population ages and requires more health care, a significant part of this is in surgical services. As elderly patients account for a growing proportion of most surgeons' practices, it is apparent that this patient group has special requirements, differences in outcomes, and different physiology from other patients encountered in the typical surgical practice. The greater frequency of emergency operations in older than in younger patients, with higher morbidity and mortality rates, compounds these differences. This paper reviews the current status of general surgery in older patients with a special focus on emergency procedures, major abdominal surgery, biliary disease, endocrine disease, and breast cancer. Each of these areas is a source of considerable interest to general surgeons.