The roles of lymphoid elements and apoptosis-related proteins in the development of extremely large hepatomas were studied in rats. Hepatoma cells were inoculated subcutaneously into 6-week-old rats, and 4 months later the quantities of T and B cells, macrophages, and cells positive for Fas, Fas ligand (FasL) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) were immunochemically evaluated in tumors. Grafting of hepatoma cells caused the development of giant tumors that could reach one-third of the rat's body weight. Within the hepatomas, almost all CD8(+) T cells were destroyed as they passed from the tumoral stroma into the parenchyma and came in contact with tumor epithelial cells. This could be the consequence of IL-2 production, since about 90% of tumor cells were CD25(+). The tumoral mass increased despite the significant increase in tumor necrosis. Cells with Ki67 or in mitosis, and cells positive for Fas and FasL were found only among tumor epithelial cells that were necrotic and never among viable cells. We suggest that progress in tumorigenesis is facilitated by inhibition of T helper cells, and the extensive death of T killer cells is caused by the high levels of the tumor produced IL-2.