Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is malignant tumor frequently occurring in Koreans. There have been few reports regarding the cytologic findings of fine needle aspiration (FNA) of HCC. Most have suggested a diagnostic problem in the cytology distinguishing HCC from some benign hepatic lesions-for example, a regeneration nodule in cirrhosis and liver cell adenoma. In spite of its high frequency in Korea, no cytologic study has been reported, concerning the FNA of HCC. In an attempt to achieve cytologic criteria for the diagnosis of HCC, the authors studied retrospectively cytopathologic findings of 247 cases of HCC. These cases were confirmed either by histologic examination including lobectomy, biopsy, or cell block materiai, or, when tissue diagnosis was unavailable, by a high serum alpha-fetoprotein level (over 400 l. U.). All aspiration smears were stained by the Papanicolaou method. In each case, the smears were analyzed for cell patterns and various cytomorphology of the tumor cells. The smear background was assessed for the presence of tumor cell necrosis and inflammatory components and compared to that of metastatic carcinomas. The cell patterns were classified as trabecular, acinar, dispersed, and irregular. The cytologic parameters analyzed included the degree of nuclear atypia and the presence of mitoses, intranuclear cytoplasmic inclusions, nucleolar prominency, endotheiial lining, multinucleated giant cells, eosinophiic globules, bile, and Mallory body.Most of the FNA of HCC showed markedly cellular smears. The tumor cells were most frequently arranged in a trabecular pattern (80.3%). The irregular (12.6%), the acinar (5.5%), and the dispersed patterns (1.7%) followed in decreasing frequency. Individual hepatoma cells were larger than normal liver cells. However, they had morphologic features characteristic of the hepatic cells: the cells were round or polygonal, their cytoplasm was abundant and granular with eosinophilic or amphophilic stainability, and their nuclei were round to oval, located centrally, and tended to have prominent nucleoli. Anaplasia and pleomorphism of tumor cells were generally mild to moderate. These findings existed even in very well differentiated cases. Mitotic figures were present in about 85% of the cases. Prominent nucleoli were observed only in about half the cases. The frequency of other cytologic features was as follows: intranuclear cytoplasmic inclusion in 86.8%; endothelial lining in 56.1%: bile in 19.8%; and giant cells in 60.1%. Clear cells were often present in11.7%, Most aspiration smears of HCC displayed clean background without necrosis or inflammatory material in contrast to the dirty, necrotic background of metastatic cancers and cholangiocarcinomas. Based on the above mentioned features, it is suqqested that the cytologic critieria most important for the diagnosis of HCC include a markedly cellular smear, trabecular pattern, hepatocytoid appearance of tumor cells, endothelial lining, the presence of bile, giant cells, intranuclear cytoplasmic inclusions, and prominent nucleoli, Among these, trabecular pattern, endothelial lining, giant cells and clean smear background are points to be considered in differentiating HCC from metastatic and cholangiocellular carcinoma.