In the last two decades, mortality from primary liver cancer has increased in the UK. We aimed to determine whether the incidence trends for these cancers were similar and in particular if the increasing occurrence of cholangiocarcinoma has continued. We calculated directly age-standardised incidence rates (using the European standard population) by subsite and histological type for all cancers of the liver, gallbladder and biliary tract in England and Wales from 1971 to 2001, using cancer registry data. The incidence of cancers of the liver, gallbladder and biliary tract increased, with the greatest rise, around 12-fold, in intrahepatic bile duct cancers. The rate of liver cell cancer increased by around 45% in males, but by <10% in females. There were marked reductions in the incidence of gallbladder and extrahepatic bile duct cancer. Cholangiocarcinoma increased around 16-fold and became the most common type of primary liver cancer in females, while hepatocellular carcinoma remained the commonest type in males. The age-specific incidence rates showed that intrahepatic bile duct cancer continued to increase throughout the 1990s in those aged 75 and over, while liver cell cancer decreased in the older age groups. In conclusion, there were increases in the incidence of primary liver cancer, which have been particularly dramatic for intrahepatic bile duct cancer, over the last three decades of the 20th century in England and Wales. There has been a halving in the incidence of gallbladder cancer and a reduction of a third in extrahepatic bile duct cancer.