The incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma is increasing worldwide and now it accounts for as many as 1 million deaths annually, representing the third cause of cancer-related death. Surveillance programmes in the population at risk, namely cirrhotic patients, aim to detect tumours at an early stage when benefit from effective therapy may be provided. Patients with early tumours (single tumours measuring less than 5 cm or with less than 3 nodules measuring less than 3 cm in size) constitute the early stage category. These patients may be treated with surgical resection, transplantation, or percutaneous ablation, and the 5-year survival rate will exceed 50%. Patients with more advanced disease constitute the intermediate-advanced stage. Intermediate stage includes individuals without cancer-related symptoms and absence of vascular invasion and/or extrahepatic spread. They may achieve a 50% survival rate at 3 years that can be expanded by transarterial chemoembolization. Symptomatic patients with more advanced disease have a survival rate of less than 20% at 3 years. In this group of patients the efficacy of new agents should be assessed in phase II trials or randomized controlled trials versus no treatment to determine the impact of any therapy on survival. Finally, patients with end-stage disease with heavily impaired liver function (Child-Pugh class C) or severe physical impairment (performance status 3-4) die within 6 months and should receive only symptomatic treatment.