Between January 1989 and June 1997, 533 patients (423 male, 110 female, mean age 61 years, range 22-89 years) with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) were observed at our center. We report on 419 patients retrospectively compared for different treatments: liver transplantation (LT; 55 patients), resective surgery (RS; 41 patients), transarterial chemoembolization (TACE; 171 patients) and percutaneous ethanol injection (PEI; 152 patients). The 3- and 5-year actuarial survival rates were, respectively, 72% and 68% for LT, 64 and 44% for RS, 54 and 36% for PEI, and 32 and 22% for TACE. Survival curves were compared for sex, age, tumor characteristics, alphafetoprotein level, Child class, and etiology of cirrhosis. All patient-related characteristics examined (sex, age) are not significantly related to patient survival. Tumor-related variables and associated liver disease variables significantly conditioned survival in relation to different treatments. LT seems to be the treatment of choice for monofocal HCC less then 5 cm in diameter and in selected cases of plurifocal HCC.