Background Thoracic hydatid disease remains a significant health problem in endemic areas. The aim of this study was to retrospectively evaluate 763 patients diagnosed with thoracic hydatid cysts and treated surgically at Ibn-Alnafis Teaching Hospital between January 1986 and January 2006. Methods All patients underwent surgery. The mean age was 26 years. Intact cysts were enucleated in 468 patients after injection with a scolicidal agent and the remaining cavity was left open after securing localised air leaks. Pulmonary resections were performed in 198 patients. Results Most cysts were removed without lung resection. Resection was reserved for large cysts, severe suppuration and complicated cases with haemoptysis or bronchiectasis. However, lung preservation was always attempted initially. In patients with intact lung cysts, 37% were asymptomatic with incidental diagnosis on routine chest X-ray. Mortality was 1% and morbidity was 12.6%. Conclusion Lung preservation without obliteration of pericystic cavity provides good result in patients with uncomplicated hydatid cysts. Radical resection should be reserved for complicated cases. Medical treatment is indicated postoperatively especially for recurrent or multiple hydatid cysts.