PURPOSE To evaluate the therapeutic impact of a simple combination chemotherapy regimen on symptoms related to malignant mesothelioma. MATERIALS AND METHODS Between October 1986 and June 1997, 39 patients with advanced inoperable malignant mesothelioma were treated with palliative MVP (mitomycin-C 8 mg/m2 q. six weeks, vinblastine 6 mg/m2 q. three weeks and cisplatin 50 mg/m2 q. three weeks) chemotherapy and assessed for objective response and relief of symptoms. RESULTS Eight of 39 patients (20%) achieved an objective partial response with a median duration of nine months: only five patients had progression of disease during chemotherapy. Twenty-four of 39 (62%) had an overall improvement in their symptomology with particularly good responses for pain (79%). These benefits were independent of performance status. Resolution of symptoms was achieved in all responding patients within two treatment cycles. There was no statistically significant difference in duration and incidence of symptom response in those patients achieving radiological PR compared with those with no change and more than 60% of patients with radiological no change obtained useful symptom control. The treatment was well tolerated with only four patients developing grade 3 leucopenia and three with grade 3 nausea. CONCLUSIONS MVP is a well tolerated regimen and its use in malignant mesothelioma provides useful symptomatic benefit. These results should be the basis for further trials of MVP in the management of mesothelioma with symptom control as a principal endpoint.