Surgical resection of primary or metastatic tumors of the liver offers patients the best long-term survival. Liver resections may not be appropriate in patients with bilobar metastases, liver dysfunction, or severe comorbidities. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a technique used to destroy unresectable hepatic tumors through thermocoagulation. We retrospectively reviewed a consecutive series of patients undergoing RFA with unresectable hepatic tumors for local recurrence and overall survival. Under an Institutional Review Board-approved protocol, all patients treated with RFA at the University of Alabama at Birmingham from September 1, 1998, to June 15, 2005, were identified. During this time period, 189 lesions in 107 patients were treated with RFA. Patients' charts were retrospectively reviewed. Data is presented as mean ± SEM. Significance is defined as P < 0.05. Patient demographics revealed 62 per cent males and 38 per cent females with a mean age of 59 (±1) years. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) represented 54 per cent of the tumors treated. Metastatic colorectal cancer represented 22 per cent and the remaining 24 per cent were other metastatic tumors. Overall recurrence rates for all tumors after RFA was 53 per cent. Local recurrence rates for HCC, colorectal cancer, and other metastatic lesions were 27.6 per cent, 29.1 per cent, and 52 per cent, respectively. The morbidity rate for the procedure was 11 per cent. There was one mortality (0.9%) related to RFA. Laparoscopic RFA for HCC in Childs-Pugh Class C cirrhotics (n = 6) resulted in 50 per cent of patients being transplanted with no evidence of disease at a mean follow-up period of 14 months. RFA is a safe and effective way for treating HCC and other unresectable tumors in the liver that are not eligible for hepatic resection. More effective control of systemic recurrence will dictate survival in the majority of patients with metastatic cancers. Local ablation for HCC in cirrhotic patients may be an effective bridge to transplantation. Liver transplantation may still be the most effective long-term treatment for localized HCC.