The role of video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) thymectomy is still being studied, and many surgeons remain skeptical of the value of this recent option. We made a retrospective evaluation to ascertain whether VATS-extended thymectomy is as reliable as standard median sternotomy in the treatment of myasthenia gravis (MG) and whether the endoscopic procedure presents any advantages for patients. Eighteen consecutive patients requiring extended thymectomy for MG were treated between April 1997 and September 2003 at our hospital. Nine patients received VATS-extended thymectomy, and the remaining nine patients received standard extended thymectomy by sternotomy. In the VATS group, the anterior mediastinal space was well visualized by sternal lifting. The mean operative time was 268.3 +/- 51.1 minutes in the VATS group and 177.3 +/- 92.5 minutes in the sternotomy group. Operative time was significant longer in the VATS group than in the sternotomy group (P < 0.05). The mean operative bleeding was 68.6 +/- 47.8 ml in the VATS group and 154.1 +/- 109.0 ml in the sternotomy group. Operative bleeding was significantly less in the VATS group than in the sternotomy group (P < 0.05). There was no significant difference between the two groups with regard to postoperative duration of chest tube or the level of serum C-reactive protein on the first operative day. There was a downward trend in nicotinic acetylcholine receptors antibody levels after thymectomy compared with before thymectomy in both groups. VATS thymectomy should be considered a valid alternative to the established approaches aimed at achieving a "curative thymectomy" in patients with MG.