Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the world. The incidence of HCC in India is reportedly low and varies from 0.2 to 1.9 %. Aflatoxins, secondary metabolites produced by Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, are potent human carcinogens implicated in HCC. The prevalence of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) as co-carcinogen was analysed using an in-house immunoperoxidase test in 31 liver biopsies and 7 liver-resection specimens from histopathologically proven HCC, and in 15 liver biopsies from cirrhosis patients (control group). Serum was tested for hepatitis B and C serological markers using commercial assays, and for AFB1 using an in-house ELISA with a sensitivity of approximately 1 ng ml(-1) for AFB1. In spite of positive AFB1 immunostaining in HCC cases, all serum specimens, from both HCC and the control groups, were AFB1-negative. There were 18 (58.1 %) HCC cases that revealed AFB1 in liver biopsies; 68.8 % (n=11) of non-B non-C hepatitis cases with HCC and 46.1 % (n=6) of the hepatitis B surface-antigen-positive subjects were positive for AFB1. Out of the two hepatitis B/hepatitis C virus co-infected cases, one was positive for AFB1. Of seven tumour-resection samples, six were positive for AFB1. Only one case revealed AFB1 in the non-tumour area of the resected material. Thus AFB1 staining was significantly associated with tumour tissue (P=0.03). Aflatoxins proved to have a significant association with HCC in this peninsular part of the subcontinent. The impact seems to be a cumulative process, as revealed by the AFB1 deposits in HCC liver tissue, even though the serum levels were undetectable.