Patients with hepatitis C have an increased risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This is related to the stage of chronic liver disease, as characterized histologically by hepatic fibrosis and architectural distortion, but it is unclear whether histological markers can define the risk of developing HCC. We conducted a case-control immunohistochemical study of Ki-67, a marker for hepatocellular proliferation, in livers of 18 patients who had developed HCC more than 2 years after the biopsy specimen had been taken. Using conditional logistic regression analysis, the results were compared with 18 selected controls, who were age-matched patients with hepatitis C of similar histological stage who had not developed HCC. We also examined livers for cellular dysplasia, p53 mutations, and bcl-2 overexpression, and assessed whether the results could be correlated with demographic and disease-related variables, such as gender, region of birth, alcohol consumption, severity of liver disease, HCV genotype, and markers of hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection. Livers from patients who developed HCC were more often positive for Ki-67 (13 of 18 [72%] v 9 of 18 [50%]; P = .06) and tended to have higher mean Ki-67 scores (6 +/- 7.5 v 3 +/- 4.4; P = .10) compared with control cases. In the HCC-predisposed group, three livers showed large cell dysplasia, two were positive for p53 mutations, and two for bcl-2 overexpression. In contrast, in the non-HCC group, only one case had dysplasia, and none were positive for immunostaining for p53 or bcl-2 mutations. With the exception of one case, all livers with large cell dysplasia or p53 mutations and bcl-2 overexpression were also positive for Ki-67. Twelve (55%) of the 22 Ki-67-positive cases were anti-HBc-positive in the serum, in contrast to 2 of 14 (14%) patients in the Ki-67-negative group (P = .01). Patients with evidence of past infection with HBV were more often Ki-67 positive than those who had no evidence of past infection (85% [11 of 13] v 45% [10 of 22]; P = .02). There were no other associations between demographic or disease-related variables and Ki-67 expression. Increased hepatocellular proliferative activity, as assessed by Ki-67 expression, may be one factor indicative of an increased risk of developing HCC among patients with chronic hepatitis C. Furthermore, past infection with HBV appears to be an important correlate of increased hepatocellular proliferation in hepatitis C.