Background Disease progression of hepatocellular cancer (HCC) in patients eligible for liver transplantation (LTx) occurs in up to 50% of patients, resulting in withdrawal from the LTx waiting list. Transarterial chemoembolization (TACE) is used as bridging therapy with highly variable response rates. The oral multikinase inhibitor sorafenib significantly increases overall survival and time-to-progression in patients with advanced hepatocellular cancer. Design The HeiLivCa study is a double-blinded, controlled, prospective, randomized multi-centre phase III trial. Patients in study arm A will be treated with transarterial chemoembolization plus sorafenib 400 mg bid. Patients in study arm B will be treated with transarterial chemoembolization plus placebo. A total of 208 patients with histologically confirmed hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC diagnosed according to EASL criteria will be enrolled. An interim patients' analysis will be performed after 60 events. Evaluation of time-to-progression as primary endpoint (TTP) will be performed at 120 events. Secondary endpoints are number of patients reaching LTx, disease control rates, OS, progression free survival, quality of live, toxicity and safety. Discussion As TACE is the most widely used primary treatment of HCC before LTx and sorafenib is the only proven effective systemic treatment for advanced HCC there is a strong rational to combine both treatment modalities. This study is designed to reveal potential superiority of the combined TACE plus sorafenib treatment over TACE alone and explore a new neo-adjuvant treatment concept in HCC before LTx.