Tumoral recurrence rate and survival of patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) treated by orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) depend on tumor stage. Thereby, from the beginning of our program, we selected only patients with solitary tumors < or = 5 cm without vascular invasion, thus avoiding the use of the tumor-node-metastasis (TNM) staging system as a selection tool. The present study reports the results obtained in 58 consecutive patients (52 +/- 8 years, 47 males) with HCC (7 incidentals) transplanted between 1989 and 1995. Transplantation was indicated because of tumor diagnosis in 40 cases and advanced liver failure in 18. Mean tumor size at staging was 28.2 +/- 12.1 mm. No adjuvant treatment was applied during the waiting period (58.9 +/- 45.1 days). The pathological tumor-node-metastasis (pTNM) classification allocated 15 patients to stage I, 19 to stage II, 11 to stage IIIA, and 13 to stage IVA showing preoperative understaging in 43% of the cases with known tumor. After a median follow up of 31 months, only two patients have shown tumor recurrence and fifteen have died, the 1-, 3-, and 5-year survival being 84%, 74%, and 74%. All HCV+ patients remain infected and 94% showed significant liver disease (6 cirrhosis). Six patients have had a second transplant. In conclusion, the application of restrictive criteria not following the TNM staging system prompts excellent results for liver transplantation in patients with HCC, both in terms of survival and disease recurrence, even without applying adjuvant treatment; however, the survival data should be tempered by the appearance of complications that may worsen the long-term prognosis.