Twenty-eight patients with primary malignant germ cell tumors (GCT) of the mediastinum were treated at the University of California at Los Angeles and The Johns Hopkins Hospital in the past 30 years. Of 11 patients with pure seminomas, nine (82%) are free of disease from 6 months to 15 years following therapy. The primary treatment modality in these patients was mediastinal radiation; one patient with metastatic disease had a complete remission and prolonged survival following combination chemotherapy. Seventeen patients had GCT with nonseminomatous elements. Only three (18%) are alive and free of disease. One patient treated only surgically is alive at 15 years and two patients treated with combination chemotherapy and operation are alive and free of disease at 6 months and 3 years. When analyzed by a Kaplan-Meier actuarial survival estimate, patients with nonseminomatous GCT who were treated with cisplatin-bleomycin-based chemotherapy had a median survival of 14.0 months whereas those treated with chemotherapy regimens not employing these agents had a median survival of 4.0 months (generalized Wilcoxon test, p = 0.0495). Patients with pure seminomas are effectively treated with radiation therapy. Patients with nonseminomatous tumors have a much poorer prognosis and deserve aggressive multimodality therapy with cisplatin-bleomycin-based chemotherapy.