There are few Western studies evaluating prognostic factors for survival in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and the influence on survival of various therapeutic options including orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT). A retrospective analysis was performed of 122 patients with HCC treated at the University of Alabama at Birmingham from January 1990 through December 1999. Clinicopathologic and treatment factors were analyzed with overall survival as the main outcome variable. Median age was 62 years. Most patients were male (74%) and white (79%). Eighty patients (66%) had associated cirrhosis. Sixty-three percent of patients presented with American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) stage III or IV tumors. The median follow-up for survivors was 22 months. The 1-, 3-, and 5-year actuarial survival rates for the entire cohort were 46%, 24%, and 17%, respectively. On multivariate analysis, ablative surgery (P = 0.003), AJCC stages I and II (P = 0.0012), and absence of vascular invasion (P = 0.0001) were found to be independent favorable characteristics. Forty-four patients underwent surgical resection (including OLT, n = 20) or a surgical ablative procedure. All but two nonsurgical patients died of disease. The actuarial 1-, 3-, and 5-year survival rates for this group were 80%, 71%, and 61%, respectively. On multivariate analysis of the surgical group, only vascular invasion was associated with poor prognosis (P = 0.001). OLT was associated with a favorable prognosis on univariate analysis (P = 0.02). Forty percent of patients who received transplants underwent local/regional treatment before transplantation and the outcome in these patients was no different from that in other transplant patients. Surgical treatment is the only potential curative option for HCC, and qualifying for liver transplantation may be a favorable prognostic factor in surgical patients. Local/regional therapy prior to transplantation may provide a bridge to OLT without an increase in tumor-related mortality.