The purpose of this Phase II study was to determine the response rate, the toxicity, and the effect on survival of the combination of cisplatin, doxorubicin, 5-fluorouracil, and alpha-IFN (PIAF) in advanced unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma. Fifty patients with either unresectable or metastatic disease were treated with PIAF: cisplatin (20 mg/m2 i.v., days 1-4), doxorubicin (40 mg/m2 i.v., day 1), 5-fluorouracil (400 mg/m2 i.v., days 1-4), and alpha-IFN (5 MU/m2 s.c., days 1-4). Treatment was repeated every 3 weeks to a maximum of six cycles. All patients were evaluable for response, toxicity, and survival. As assessed by conventional imaging criteria, there were no complete responses, but 13 patients (26%) had a partial response. Among the 36 patients who had an initially high alpha-fetoprotein level (>500 ng/ml), 15 (42%) had a >50% fall after therapy. Nine patients underwent surgical resection after achieving partial response and, in 4 of these patients, histological examination of the resected specimens revealed no viable tumor cells. All these nine patients are alive, and eight patients remain in complete remission at between 7.6 and 25.8 months at the time of analysis. The overall median survival was 8.9 months. Toxicity was mainly myelosuppression and mucositis. There were two treatment-related deaths due to neutropenic sepsis. PIAF is active in hepatocellular carcinoma despite considerable hematological toxicity. Complete pathological remission is possible with this systemic combination. Apparently, persistent radiological lesions may still represent complete pathological resolution of active disease.