Among non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma (PMLCL) has been considered a separate entity that has specific clinical and histological aspects and a poor prognosis. In this study, we reexamined the clinicopathologic features and the response to current treatment of 141 PMLCL and compare them with 916 nonmediastinal large B-cell lymphomas (NMLCL) recorded in the same period and treated with similar combined chemotherapy. The clinical features of PMLCL at diagnosis were largely homogeneous and distinct from NMLCL, with a predilection for young women (59% with a mean age of 37 years versus 42% with a mean age of 54 years), bulky tumor (77% versus 7%, p < 10(4)), high serum lactic dehydrogenase (LDH) level 76% versus 51%, p < 10(4)), and frequent intrathoracic extension to adjacent organs such as pleura, pericardium, and lung. By contrast, extrathoracic or hematologic dissemination was uncommon (2% of bone marrow involvement versus 17%). All patients had diffuse large B-cell nonimmunoblastic, nonanaplastic lymphomas. Histological analysis of the 141 PMLCL evaluated two common patterns: the presence of large cells with clear cytoplasm (found in 38% of cases) and the presence of fibrosis (marked in 25% of cases). The presence of clear cells or intense fibrosis did not constitute prognostic indicators. Immunologic and molecular analysis assessed the profile of bcl-2 expression and the presence of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in PMLCL: 30% expressed a high level of bcl-2 protein; EBER RNAs were detected by in situ hybridization in only two of the 41 cases tested. Monotypic light chain restriction could be demonstrated in seven of the 41 PMLCL tested on fixed-section. Treated with polychemotherapy regimens without radiotherapy, 79% of PMLCL patients achieved a complete remission compared with 68% in the NMLCL patient group (p = 0.01). Overall, 3-year survival rates were estimated at 66 and 61%, respectively (p = 0.05), and disease-free survival rates were not significantly different (61 versus 64%). Stratified analysis on the International Prognostic Index (based on age, tumor stage, serum LDH level, and performance status) showed no difference in the overall and disease-free survivals between the two lymphoma groups. In conclusion, PMLCL can be combined with other diffuse large B-cell lymphomas on morphologic grounds; it is not associated with EBV. It responds favorably to treatment and should be managed like other high-grade lymphomas of equivalent histology. However, the uncommon clinical presentation makes it a distinct entity.