Octreotide may extend survival in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Forty-one per cent of HCCs have high-affinity somatostatin receptors. We aimed to determine the feasibility, safety, and activity of long-acting octreotide in advanced HCC; to identify the best method for assessing somatostatin receptor expression; to relate receptor expression to clinical outcomes; and to evaluate toxicity. Sixty-three patients with advanced HCC received intramuscular long-acting octreotide 20 mg monthly until progression or toxicity. Median age was 67 years (range 28-81 years), male 81%, Child-Pugh A 83%, and B 17%. The aetiologies of chronic liver disease were alcohol (22%), viral hepatitis (44%), and haemochromatosis (6%). Prior treatments for HCC included surgery (8%), chemotherapy (2%), local ablation (11%), and chemoembolisation (6%). One patient had an objective partial tumour response (2%, 95% CI 0-9%). Serum alpha-fetoprotein levels decreased more than 50% in four (6%). Median survival was 8 months. Thirty four of 61 patients (56%) had receptor expression detected by scintigraphy; no clear relationship with clinical outcomes was identified. There were few grade 3 or 4 toxicities: hyperglycaemia (8%), hypoglycaemia (2%), diarrhoea (5%), and anorexia (2%). Patients reported improvements in some symptoms, but no major changes in quality of life were detected. Long-acting octreotide is safe in advanced HCC. We found little evidence of anticancer activity. A definitive randomised trial would identify whether patients benefit from this treatment in other ways.