The medical records of 267 patients who had liver tumors, primary and metastatic, from 1988 to 1995 were retrospectively reviewed. Two hundred thirteen patients (80%) had metastatic disease, and 54 patients (20%) had primary liver disease. Their clinical manifestations and laboratory values were evaluated as factors predictive of diagnosis and survival. There was a significant increase in the occurrence of upper abdominal pain, weight loss, extrahepatic symptoms due to the metastatic origin, and hepatomegaly. Metastases from colorectal primary lesions were synchronous in 34 patients and metachronous in 31 patients. Stomach, lung, and pancreatic primaries were more commonly synchronous. Breast metastases were more commonly metachronous. Elevated serum glutamic-oxaloecetic transaminase and alkaline phosphatase and decreased albumin were the most common liver test abnormalities at diagnosis. Carcinoembryonic antigen values were elevated in the majority of colon cancer patients. Eighty-one percent of patients with primary liver cancer had elevated levels of alpha-fetoprotein, 40 per cent were seropositive for hepatitis B, and 23 per cent were seropositive for hepatitis C. Seventy-nine patients (30%) underwent surgery for their cancer, 37 (47%) had resections, 38 (48%) were unresectable, and 4 (5%) underwent liver transplantation. The patients who underwent surgery had a 32 per cent 5-year survival rate compared to a 0 per cent 5-year survival in the patients who did not have surgery (p = 0.0001). The patients who had resections had a better survival rate than those deemed unresectable at surgery (62% versus 0% at 5-years with p = 0.0008). The perioperative morbidity rate was 16 per cent, with lobectomies having the best rate and trisegmentectomies having the worst. Perioperative mortality rate was zero for all liver resections. Hepatic resection and, in selected patients, liver transplantation are the only two available therapeutic modalities that produce long-term survival with a possible cure in patients with primary and metastatic liver tumor.