Over the past 19 years, 278 patients (238 men-40 women) have undergone 325 parietal pleurectomies: 311 transaxillary apical and 14 full pleurectomies. Mean age was 32 +/- 12 years. The overall male:female ratio was 6:1. Surgical treatment was performed for either recurrence of spontaneous pneumothorax or failure to respond adequately to management by tube drainage. Thirty-six patients underwent one stage bilateral apical pleurectomy. On the basis of our experience (idiopathic pneumothorax: 311; chronic obstructive lung disease: 12; histiocytosis X: 2), we advocate the use of transaxillary apical pleurectomy for the younger age group with recurrent idiopathic pneumothorax and a full pleurectomy in the older age group. Major complications occurred in 1.9% of cases (re-exploration for haemorrhage: 5 cases; for air leak: 1 case). The recurrence rate in this group of patients was 1% (3 in 278 patients: one of them has been reoperated).