• Cystectomy;
  • mortality;
  • morbidity;
  • bladder cancer;
  • age;
  • surgery

Objectives To examine the morbidity and mortality of radical cystectomy as currently practised, and to compare the findings with historical data.

Patients and methods The operative mortality and early and late complications were recorded in 101 consecutive patients (median age 65 years, range 38–81; 33 aged > 70 years) undergoing radical cystectomy between April 1992 and October 1997. Fifteen patients had relapsed after previous radical radiotherapy.

Results The median postoperative stay was 14 days (range 8–44). There were two deaths within 60 days of surgery (of patients aged 46 and 59 years) from respiratory failure and sepsis, respectively. The mortality in the elderly was not more than in other age groups. The early morbidity included two cases of lower limb insufficiency, both in the salvage cystectomy group, where the morbidity was significantly higher than in those undergoing primary cystectomy (chi-squared, P < 0.01). Three patients underwent early re-exploration. There were four clinically significant episodes of deep vein thrombosis and two pulmonary emboli that were not fatal.

Conclusion As currently practised, radical cystectomy is associated with a lower mortality (< 2%) and morbidity than described previously. The added morbidity of salvage cystectomy and the acceptable mortality of primary cystectomy suggests that the treatment of choice for muscle-invasive disease is primary cystectomy, with external beam radiotherapy reserved for those patients unfit for major surgical intervention. Age alone should no longer be considered a contraindication to cystectomy.