Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the fifth most common cause of cancer, and its incidence is increasing worldwide because of the dissemination of hepatitis B and C virus infection. Patients with cirrhosis are at the highest risk and should be monitored every 6 months. Surveillance can lead to diagnosis at early stages, when the tumour might be curable by resection, liver transplantation, or percutaneous treatment. In the West and Japan, these treatments can be applied to 30% of patients, and result in 5-year survival rates higher than 50%. Resection is indicated among patients who have one tumour and well-preserved liver function. Liver transplantation benefits patients who have decompensated cirrhosis and one tumour smaller than 5 cm or three nodules smaller than 3 cm, but donor shortage greatly limits its applicability. This difficulty might be overcome by living donation. Most HCC patients are diagnosed at advanced stages and receive palliative treatments, which have been assessed in the setting of 63 randomised controlled trials during the past 25 years. Meta-analysis shows that only chemoembolisation improves survival in well-selected patients with unresectable HCC.