Evidence indicates that cyclooxygenase (COX)-2-derived prostaglandins (PGs) contribute to tumor growth by inducing angiogenesis. We investigated the role of COX-2 in hepatitis B virus (HBV)-associated hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). COX-2 and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expressions were examined by immunohistochemistry in 24 HBV-associated HCC. Tumor micro-vessel density (MVD) was assessed using CD34 immunohistochemistry. Hep3B HCC cell line, which carries integrated HBV genome, was stably transfected with human COX-2 cDNA. COX-2 and VEGF expressions were determined by Western blot while PG level was determined by ELISA. The effects of PGs on VEGF expression were also investigated. Expression of COX-2 and VEGF in HCC cells were observed in 19 (79%) and 16 (67%) cases, respectively. Well-differentiated HCC expressed COX-2 more strongly than less-differentiated HCC (p<0.001). COX-2 expression was found to correlate with VEGF expression and MVD (p=0.003 and 0.004, respectively). COX-2 overexpressing Hep3B clone had higher VEGF expression as compared to non-COX-2 expressing clone and parental cells. Treatment of the COX-2 overexpressing cells with a COX-2-selective inhibitor, NS-398 (10 microM), decreased PGE2 level and attenuated VEGF expression. Addition of PGE2 (10 microM) and the stable analog of PGI2, carbaprostacyclin (5 microM), to Hep3B cells also increased VEGF expression. Up-regulation of COX-2 correlates with VEGF expression and tumor angiogenesis in HBV-associated HCC. Moreover, COX-2 up-regulates VEGF expression in HCC cells, possibly via PGs production. Selective inhibition of COX-2 may block HCC associated angiogenesis and thus provides a rational approach for treatment of this malignancy.