Ki-67 expression in tumours has been shown to be associated with prognosis in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). In this study, primary HCC samples were obtained from 67 patients undergoing surgical resection. None of these patients had been subjected previously to any other form of therapy, such as arterial embolization or chemotherapy. Histologically normal liver tissues from liver resection for metastatic colon cancer were taken as controls (n = 8). Monoclonal antibody against Ki-67 was used for immunostaining and flow cytometry was used to measure tumour DNA ploidy. The mean Ki-67 labelling index (percentage of Ki-67-positive cells) of the HCC (26 +/- 22%; range 0.1-89%) was significantly higher than that of the normal controls (39 +/- 0.8%, P < 0.05). The mean Ki-67 labelling index (19 +/- 15%; n = 28) of the tumours with diploid DNA pattern was significantly lower than those with aneuploid DNA pattern (32 +/- 25%, n = 39; P = 0.01). Hepatocellular carcinoma patients (n = 47) with Ki-67 index > 10% had a significantly lower disease-free and overall survival than those (n = 20) with Ki-67 index < or = 10% (P = 0.0009 and P = 0.02, respectively). Multivariate analysis showed that Ki-67 expression and tumour node metastasis stage were two independent prognostic factors for disease-free and overall survival rates. Our results suggest that the expression of Ki-67 is an independent prognostic indicator for patients with HCC after resection and could be of assistance in the decision-making of adjuvant therapy.