Hepatic alveolar echinococcosis (HAE) is a potentially fatal disease caused by the larval growth of Echinococcus multilocularis. We analysed the clinical data of 178 consecutive HAE patients treated with definitive radical surgery at our institution. According to the surgical approach: group A patients underwent direct radical hepatic resection; group B patients first underwent percutaneous puncture external drainage, followed by radical hepatic resection 2 months later; group C patients underwent a two-step hepatic resection; and group D patients underwent liver transplantation. The baseline characteristics, mortality, postoperative complications and recurrence rates were evaluated. Symptoms were present in 79.8% (142/178) patients. Bi-lobar lesion was found in 34 (19.1%, 34/178) patients, 47.2% (84/178) of whom had ⩾2 lesions each. There were no intraoperative deaths. The postoperative mortality was 2.29% in group A, 8.62% in group D and 0% in groups B and C. The main cause of death was a serious postoperative complication (Clavien–Dindo grades III–V). Patients were followed-up systematically for a median of 35.8 months (8–72) without recurrence. Active HAE should be treated by radical liver resection, and the complicated alveolar echinococcosis of the liver has been managed whenever possible using principles of radical liver resection by experienced hepatic surgeons.