The aim of this study was to compare interstitial laser thermotherapy with excision of a liver tumour. A dimethylhydrazine-induced adenocarcinoma was transplanted (implanted if not stated otherwise) into the left lateral lobe of the rat liver, and treatment was performed 8 days later. In the main experiment, rats were treated with resection of the tumour-bearing lobe or underwent interstitial laser thermotherapy, which was performed at a steady-state temperature of 46 degrees C for 30 min, 3 mm from the tumour margin. The incidence and extent of intraperitoneal spread was smaller after laser thermotherapy than after resection of the tumour-bearing lobe, with no difference in local control. Metastatic spread after resection of the median liver lobe was similar to that observed after sham procedures for thermotherapy or resection, suggesting that the advantage of thermotherapy was not due to a difference in surgical trauma. Additional studies showed that laser thermotherapy reduced intraperitoneal spread when treatment was suboptimal or in a tumour inoculation model and suggested that immunological mechanisms might be involved. It is concluded that interstitial laser thermotherapy reduces spread of liver tumour compared with resection.