Although HLA-linked hemochromatosis greatly increases the risk for hepatocellular carcinoma in people of European ancestry, iron overload in Africa is not thought to be etiologically related to this malignancy. To determine if African iron overload may be associated with hepatocellular carcinoma, we reviewed 320 consecutive diagnostic liver biopsies processed at the University of Zimbabwe from 1992 to 1994 and we selected for analysis 215 biopsies from adults that were suitable for the histological assessment of hepatocellular iron. Subjects were stratified according to hepatocellular iron grades of 0-2+ (normal levels to mild siderosis; n = 183) and grades of 3+ and 4+ (distinctly elevated levels consistent with iron overload; n = 32). Thirty-six subjects had hepatocellular carcinoma. Logistic regression modeling revealed a significant association between iron overload and hepatocellular carcinoma after adjustment for age, sex and and the presence of portal fibrosis or cirrhosis (p = 0.041). The odds of hepatocellular carcinoma in subjects with iron overload was 3.1 (95% confidence interval of 1.05-9.4) times that of subjects without iron overload. While we could not test for exposure to viral hepatitis or to aflatoxins in this study, our findings suggest that iron overload may be a risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma in Africa.