BACKGROUND Thymic carcinoma is a rare mediastinal neoplasm with poor prognosis. Although the clinical benefit of chemotherapy for thymic carcinoma is controversial, cisplatin-based chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy is ordinarily adopted in advanced cases. We evaluated the clinical outcome of platinum-based chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy in unresectable thymic carcinoma patients. METHODS Ten patients with unresectable thymic carcinoma were treated with platinum-based chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy in the National Cancer Center Hospital between 1989 and 1998. We reviewed the histological type, treatment, response and survival of these patients. RESULTS Four of the 10 patients responded to chemotherapy and both the median progression-free survival period and the median response duration were 6.0 months. The median survival time was 11.0 months. There was no relationship between histological classification and prognosis. CONCLUSIONS Platinum-based chemotherapy with or without thoracic radiation is, regardless of tumor histology, marginally effective in advanced thymic carcinoma patients, giving only a modest tumor response rate and short response duration and survival.