The prognosis for patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is poor because of the low chance of curative treatment. To increase the chance of intervention and to improve survival, early detection of subclinical HCC (SCHCC) by α-fetoprotein (AFP) and/or ultrasonography (USG) screening is implemented in many countries. Three hundred six Chinese patients with HCC diagnosed between January 1995 and December 1997 were recruited. They were categorized into two groups: 142 patients (group 1) had SCHCC diagnosed by screening (AFP and/or USG), and 164 patients (group 2) presented with symptomatic HCC. The tumor size was significantly smaller in group 1 compared with that of group 2 (3.5 cm vs. 8.1 cm; P < .0001). A significantly higher proportion of patients had bilobar involvement, multifocal HCC, diffuse-type HCC, portal vein infiltration, and distant metastasis in group 2 when compared with group 1. Operability and feasibility of treatment by transcatheter intra-arterial chemoembolization (TACE) in group 1 patients (26.8% and 45.1%, respectively) were significantly better than in group 2 patients (7.9% and 32.3%, P < .0001 and P = .03, respectively). The cumulative survival rate was significantly higher in group 1 than in group 2 (P < .0001). For those who had surgical resection and those who had TACE, group 1 patients had a higher cumulative survival rate compared with that of group 2 patients (P = .04 and P = .0003, respectively). Screening for HCC by AFP and/or USG can identify tumors at an early stage, resulting in a higher chance of receiving treatment. Whether it can improve survival requires a further prospective, randomized study.