Objective: Cardiac operations in elderly patients are increasingly frequent and imply major clinical, ethical, and economic issues. Operative and 5-year results of cardiac operations in patients aged 79 years or more are known in limited series, and a debate is ongoing on the appropriateness of selection of patients for surgery. Methods: We retrospectively reviewed our experience in 6802 patients aged 79 years or more who had received a cardiac operation. Surgical candidates were selected according to functional status, crude operative risk, and social context and were managed according to a multimodality protocol. Results: Mean age was 82 years and surgery was nonelective in 1613 cases (23.5%, 31 salvage). Procedures consisted of valve replacement (aortic, 2817; mitral, 532; and tricuspid, 2 cases), valve repair (aortic, 66; mitral, 532; and tricuspid, 232 cases), coronary bypass grafting (12,034 coronary vessels bypassed), and replacement of the thoracic aorta (ascending, 315; arch, 28 cases). Overall operative mortality was 3.4%. Nonelective presentation, need for aortic counterpulsation, cardiopulmonary bypass time, blood transfusion, depressed systolic function, and chronic lung disease predicted operative mortality. Five-year cumulative mortality was 7.5%. Poor systolic function, previous myocardial infarction, and combined coronary/mitral surgery predicted late mortality. The operative risk of nonagenarians operated on electively did not differ from that of risk-matched octogenarians. Conclusions: Cardiac surgery in elderly and very elderly patients can be performed with acceptable mortality provided that accurate selection and a multifactorial risk evaluation are adopted. Whenever possible, nonelective operations should be avoided and earlier surgery should be encouraged. Five-year survival and functional recovery are good. Copyright © 2011 by The American Association for Thoracic Surgery.