Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most frequent malignant tumors and is the second most common cause of cancer death in China. Therefore, it is very important to detect this disease and the recurrence at its earlier period. Serum tumor markers, as the effective method for detecting hepatocellular carcinoma for a long time, could be divided into 4 categories: oncofetal antigens and glycoprotein antigens; enzymes and isoenzymes; genes; and cytokines. Serum alpha fetoprotein (AFP) is the most widely used tumor marker in detecting patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, and has been proven to have capability of prefiguring the prognosis. However, it has been indicated that AFP-L3 and DCP excel AFP in differentiating hepatocellular carcinoma from nonmalignant hepatopathy and detecting small hepatocellular carcinoma. Some tumor markers, such as human cervical cancer oncogene and human telomerase reverse transcriptase mRNA, have also been indicated to have higher accuracies than AFP. Furthermore, some other tumor markers, such as glypican-3, gamma-glutamyl transferase II, alpha-l-fucosidase, transforming growth factor-beta1, tumor-specific growth factor, have been indicated to be available supplementaries to AFP in the detection. AFP mRNA has been shown to correlate with the metastasis and recurrence of HCC, and it may be the most useful marker to prefigure the prognosis. Some other markers, such as gamma-glutamyl transferase mRNA, vascular endothelial growth factor, and interleukin-8, could also be used as available prognostic indicators, and the simultaneous determination of AFP and these markers may detect the recurrence of HCC at its earlier period.