Estimates from the year 2000 indicate that liver cancer remains the fifth most common malignancy in men and the eighth in women worldwide. The number of new cases is estimated to be 564,000 per year, including 398,000 in men and 166,000 in women. In high-risk countries, liver cancer can arise before the age of 20 years, whereas, in countries at low risk, liver cancer is rare before the age of 50 years. Rates of liver cancer in men are typically 2 to 4 times higher than in women. The incidence of primary liver cancer is increasing in several developed countries, including the United States, and the increase will likely continue for some decades. The trend is a result of a cohort effect related to infection with hepatitis B and C viruses, the incidence of which peaked in the 1950s to 1980s. In selected areas of some developing countries, the incidence of primary liver cancer has decreased, possibly as a result of the introduction of hepatitis B virus vaccine. The geographic variability in incidence of primary liver cancer is largely explained by the distribution and the natural history of the hepatitis B and C viruses. The attributable risk estimates for the combined effects of these infections account for well over 80% of liver cancer cases worldwide. Primary liver cancer is the first human cancer largely amenable to prevention using hepatitis B virus vaccines and screening of blood and blood products for hepatitis B and C viruses.