Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the third leading cause of cancer mortality worldwide and ranks second in China. The prognosis of HCC remains dismal mainly because of its late diagnosis, especially in patients with coexisting chronic liver diseases. To identify serum biomarkers for HCC, sera from 20 healthy volunteers, 20 hepatitis B virus (HBV) infected patients and 20 HCC patients were selected for screening study and same number of sera into the same three groups were used for validation study. A strategy including sonication, albumin and immunoglobulin G (IgG) depletion and desalting was optimized for screening differentially expressed proteins of low abundance in serum. By 2-DE image analysis and MALDI-TOF-MS/MS identification, eight proteins including heat-shock protein 27 (HSP27), alpha-fetoprotein (AFP), alpha-1 antitrypsin, clusterin, caeruloplasmin, haptoglobin alpha2 chain, tranferrin and transthyretin were found significantly changed among the healthy, HBV and HCC groups. Further validation study by Western blot showed the detection of HSP27 in 90% HCC sera and two HBV sera, but in none of normal sera. Thus, 2-DE based serum proteome analysis can be useful in the screening of serum biomarkers for HCC and HSP27 could aid in the diagnosis of HCC though further validation is needed.