The use of transcervical thymectomy in the treatment of myasthenia gravis remains controversial. We retrospectively reviewed our experience with this procedure to determine its usefulness in the management of myasthenia gravis. Fifty-three selected myasthenic patients without thymoma underwent transcervical thymectomy between 1977 and 1991. The mean age (27.5 +/- 1.5 years), duration of symptoms (2 +/- 1.0 years), and preoperative Osserman classification (13% class I, 53% class IIA, 28% class IIB, 6% class III) were consistent with previous reports. The average hospitalization was 3.0 +/- 0.3 days, but has been 1.6 +/- 0.2 days since 1987 (n = 14). There were no deaths, and no patients required mechanical ventilation for more than 24 hours. Average follow-up was 4.3 +/- 0.4 years with a range of 0 to 13 years. Eighty-one percent of patients are symptom free, and 9 of 21 (43%) are in complete remission at least 5 years postoperatively. One patient required a transsternal exploration for worsening symptoms. Clinical improvement continued over an extended period of time, and a statistically significant decrease in symptoms was evident comparing the first and sixth postoperative years. Patients were more likely to be improved or in remission if thymectomy was performed within the first year of the onset of symptoms (p < 0.05). Osserman classification, thymus histology, and patient age were not prognostic indicators. Transcervical thymectomy is effective surgical therapy for myasthenia gravis in selected patients without thymoma.