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Various clinical studies have indicated that interferon (IFN)-alpha treatment prevents the development of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) in people chronically infected with hepatitis C virus. However, it has been controversial whether IFN-alpha treatment prevents HCC recurrence. The aim of this study was to identify the preventive effect of IFN-alpha treatment after curative therapy of primary tumours within the Milan criteria (three or fewer nodules 3 cm or less in diameter or a single nodule of 5 cm or less) on HCC recurrence. We conducted a meta-analysis of five trials including 355 patients (167 patients received IFN-alpha treatment after curative therapy of primary tumours) and estimated relative risks (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for the effect of IFN-alpha on HCC recurrence according to the DerSimonian and Laird method. IFN-alpha treatment after curative therapy of primary tumours significantly prevented HCC recurrence (RR 0.33; 95%CI 0.19–0.58, P < 0.0001) without a significant heterogeneity (Q = 4.52, P = 0.34). An evaluation using the Begg method suggested no evidence of publication bias. Sub-group analyses revealed that IFN-alpha treatment reduced HCC recurrence in two studies achieving sustained virologic response (SVR) rates >30% (RR 0.20; 95%CI 0.05–0.81, P = 0.02) and in three studies achieving SVR rates ≤30% (RR 0.44; 95%CI 0.23–0.84, P = 0.01). In conclusion, IFN-alpha treatment after curative treatment of primary tumour within Milan criteria may be effective for the prevention of HCC recurrence, and higher SVR rate may be associated with better preventive effect of IFN-alpha treatment on HCC recurrence.