Two hundred twelve Italian patients with genetic hemochromatosis (181 men, mean age 50 +/- 11 yr; and 31 women, mean age 49 +/- 10 yr) were followed for a median period of 44 mo (range = 3 to 218 mo). Alcohol abuse was present in 31 subjects (15%), and chronic HBV and HCV infection were seen in 19 (9%) and 35 (24%) of 145 cases tested, respectively. Twenty-four patients (11%) had concomitant beta-thalassemia trait. Liver biopsy revealed cirrhosis in 146 and a noncirrhotic pattern in the other 66. Perls' stain was degree III in 37 patients and IV in 171 patients. One hundred eighty-five patients underwent weekly venesection, and iron depletion was achieved in 122 cases after total iron removal of 3 to 41 gm. Death occurred in 44 patients after 3 to 198 mo and was due to hepatocellular carcinoma in 20 cases, liver failure in 10, extrahepatic cancer in six, heart failure in three and hemochromatosis unrelated causes in five. Cancer has developed in seven other patients still alive (hepatocellular in five and extrahepatic in two). No deaths were observed among noncirrhotic patients; cumulative survival rates in cirrhotic patients were 85%, 75%, 60% and 47% at 3, 5, 8 and 10 yr, respectively. Univariate analysis in the 146 cirrhotic patients showed that age greater than 60 yr, alcohol abuse, cardiomyopathy, skin pigmentation, portal hypertension, hypoalbuminemia, hypergammaglobulinemia and Child class B or C had significant negative prognostic value. At multivariate analysis, only alcohol abuse, gamma-globulins greater than 2.0 gm/dl and Child class B or C maintained their negative prognostic values (p less than 0.01, hazard ratio 2.7; p less than 0.001, hazard ratio 2.8; and p less than 0.001, hazard ratio 4.3, respectively).