All 240 consecutive cases of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) that underwent autopsy at the National Cancer Center Hospital (Tokyo, Japan) between September 1962 and August 1986 were reviewed. Among these cases, 162, for which photographs of cut surfaces of the primary tumors were available, were grossly classified using a combination of both Eggel's classification and our own into three major types, i.e., nodular, massive, and diffuse as described by Eggel (Eggel H, Beitr Pathol Anat 1901; 30:506-604), and three subgroups of nodular type, i.e., single nodular type (type 1), single nodular type with extranodular growth (type 2), and contiguous multinodular type (type 3) by our classification (Kanai T et al., Cancer 1987; 60:810-819). Seventy-eight cases were classified as nodular type, comprising seven cases of type 1, 61 cases of type 2, and ten cases of type 3. Sixty-seven and 17 cases were classified as massive and diffuse type, respectively. Of the 78 nodular-type tumors, 59 measured less than 10 cm, whereas 64 of 67 massive-type tumors were 10 cm or more in size. The incidence of intrahepatic and extrahepatic tumor spread of HCC was significantly higher for tumors measuring more than 5 cm. As to the relationship between macroscopic type and tumor spread, the frequency of spread was lowest for type 1 tumors, and high for the other types. Intrahepatic metastasis was detected in 28.6% of type 1, 93.4% of type 2, 100% of type 3, and 98.5% of massive-type tumors. Lymph node metastasis was detected in 14.3% of type 1, 24.6% of type 2, 70% of type 3, 38.8% of massive-type and 52.9% of diffuse-type tumors. Hematogenous extrahepatic metastasis was detected in 14.3% of type 1, 47.5% of type 2, 70% of type 3, 74.6% of massive-type and 82.4% of diffuse-type tumors. It appears that not only primary tumor size but also its macroscopic type has an important influence on the growth and spread of HCC.