Between 1987 and 1993, 53 hepatic resections for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) were performed in 51 patients with cirrhosis. Limited hepatic resection was performed in 66 per cent of patients. The postoperative mortality rate was 13 per cent. The tumours recurred in 27 patients (53 per cent), and the cumulative recurrence rate at 1 and 4 years was 41 and 89 per cent, respectively. Mean time to recurrence was 11.7 months and the most frequent site was the liver (21 patients). The only significant risk factor for recurrence was symptomatic tumours. The recurrence rate for HCC in patients with cirrhosis with surgical resection alone is high and actuarial survival at 4 years is very low. Other approaches to the treatment of HCC in patients with cirrhosis require consideration.