The diagnostic value of computed tomography (CT) scans in small hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) (less than 5 cm) was studied in 82 patients. Dynamic scan was also made in 66 of them. Combined unenhanced and enhanced scans detected 87% of the lesions greater than 2 cm, but the detection rate was only 25% for lesions less than 1.5 cm. Diagnostic failure was due to isodensity of the mass and to technical artefacts. Diagnosis of the surrounding capsule and internal septa (partition) and demonstration of the typical pattern of density enhancement by dynamic scan proved useful in differentiating HCC from secondary cancers. On unenhanced CT, the density of the interior was subject to the histological changes of tumour such as bleeding, necrosis and fatty metamorphosis. Similarly, enhanced CT showed density changes suggestive of these histological changes. Dynamic scan proved particularly useful for lesions less than 3 cm because the typical density enhancement was frequently demonstrated in the arterial phase. It was concluded that unenhanced CT combined with dynamic scan has a high diagnostic value in small HCC and reflects histological changes.