BACKGROUND Several therapeutic strategies, such as ischaemic preconditioning, intermittent or selective pedicle clamping and pharmacological interventions, have been explored to reduce morbidity caused by hepatic ischaemia-reperfusion injury and the surgical stress response. The role of steroids in this setting remains controversial. METHODS A comprehensive literature search in MEDLINE, Embase and the Cochrane Register of Clinical Trials (CENTRAL) was conducted (1966 onwards), identifying studies comparing perioperative administration of intravenous steroids with standard care or placebo, in the setting of liver surgery. Randomized Controlled trials (RCTs) and non-RCTs were included. Critical appraisal and meta-analysis were carried out according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) statement. RESULTS Six articles were included; five were RCTs. Pooling the results revealed that patients receiving intravenous glucocorticoids were 24 per cent less likely to suffer postoperative morbidity compared with controls (risk ratio 0.76, 95 per cent confidence interval 0.57 to 0.99; P = 0.047). The treated group experienced a significantly greater rise in early postoperative interleukin (IL) 10 levels compared with controls. In addition, steroids significantly reduced postoperative blood levels of bilirubin, and of inflammatory markers such as IL-6 and C-reactive protein. There was no evidence supporting a risk difference in infectious complications and wound healing between study groups. CONCLUSION Perioperative steroids have a favourable impact on postoperative outcomes after liver resection.