As a result of an increasing number of studies on the surgical treatment of intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (ICC), knowledge of its biological characteristics has been accumulating. We analyzed the clinicopathological features and outcome of 36 of 48 surgical patients with histologically proven ICC (75.0%) who underwent hepatic resection between March 1979 and July 1998. According to tumor location, 12 patients had the central type and 24, the peripheral type. The incidence of portal vein tumor thrombus and lymph node metastasis was higher in the central type than in the peripheral type. All 12 patients with the central type had stage IV disease, and none of them underwent complete resection, whereas 12 of the 24 patients with peripheral type tumors had stage IV disease; complete resection was achieved in 12 of the 24 patients with peripheral type tumors (50%). Outcome after resection was significantly poorer in the patients with the central type. The macroscopic type of lesion in the resected specimens was the mass-forming type in 15 patients (41.7%), the mass-forming + periductal-infiltrating type in 15 patients (41.7%), the periductal-infiltrating type in 3 patients (8.3%) and the intraductal growth type in 3 patients (8.3%). The macroscopic tumor type was associated with mode of tumor spread and outcome. All 3 patients with the intraductal growth type are alive without tumor recurrence 26-138 months after surgery. The survival rate was much higher in the patients with the mass-forming type than in those with the mass-forming + periductal-infiltrating type. Importantly, the outcome in the 17 patients who underwent resection for stage IV-B disease and who accounted for 47.2% of patients with resection in the present series was very poor, almost the same as that in the 12 patients who did not undergo resection. By selecting patients based on the biological characteristics of the tumor and taking into account patients' quality of life, complete surgical resection can be performed safely and is associated with long-term survival.