BACKGROUND/AIMS We conducted a retrospective cohort study to investigate factors to early and late phase recurrence of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). METHODS The study population consisted of 249 patients including 157 with cirrhosis who underwent hepatectomy for HCC. The endpoint was time-to-recurrence. Using a Cox regression model, factors to early and late phase recurrences were investigated censoring recurrence-free patients at the 2-year time point and in patients without recurrence at 2 years. RESULTS Actuarial probability of overall recurrence at 1, 3, and 5 years were 0.301, 0.623, and 0.790, respectively, with a median follow-up of 624 days. Early recurrence was observed in 123 out of 249 patients; while late recurrence was found in 61 out of 113 patients. Factors to early recurrence were as follows: non-anatomical resection, presence of microscopic vascular invasion, and serum alpha-fetoprotein level >or=32 ng/ml. Those contributing to late phase recurrence were higher grade of hepatitis activity, multiple tumors, and gross tumor classification. CONCLUSIONS Variables associated with metastatic recurrence were factors to early phase recurrence; whereas those related with elevated carcinogenesis contributed to late phase recurrence, thus providing an epidemiological evidence that different mechanisms, i.e. metastasis and de novo, are involved in intrahepatic recurrence after hepatectomy for HCC.