To compare incidence, risk factors and morphologic pattern of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) development in hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) related cirrhosis, 401 patients were followed prospectively by periodic ultrasound examination for 14-189 months (mean: 84.8+/-36.7). During follow-up, 77 (19.2%) patients developed HCC, with 5 and 10 year cumulative incidence of 10 and 27.5%, respectively. The risk of HCC was significantly higher in HBV and HCV co-infected patients (P=0.014) compared to those with single HBsAg or anti-HCV (antibodies to hepatitis C virus) positivity. In anti-HCV positive cases the annual risk of HCC increased from 2% in the first 5 year period to 4% in the third 5 year period, while it decreased from 2 to 0% in the same time periods in the HBsAg positive group. By Cox's regression, age above 59 years (P=0.001), male sex (P=0.09), longer duration (P=0.04) and more advanced stage (P=0.01) of cirrhosis, lower platelets count (P=0.001) and higher ALT levels were significant risk factors for HCC in anti-HCV positive patients, while only high alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) levels during follow-up (P=0.04) was a significant risk factor for HCC in HBsAg positive cases. The pattern of HCC was nodular in 63 (81.8%) patients and infiltrating in 14 (18.2%), and the former type was associated with older age (P=0.0001), longer duration (P=0.002) and more advanced stage (P=0.0001) of cirrhosis but not with the viral etiology of disease. In contrast, development of infiltrating HCC was unrelated to age and disease duration and stage, and was associated with male sex (P=0.01), HBV infection (P=0.06) and HBV and HCV co-infection (P=0.0001). Our results indicate different incidence profile, risk factors and patterns of morphogenesis of HCC development in HBV and HCV associated cirrhosis, suggesting different mechanisms of carcinogenesis.