The aim of this review was to evaluate the clinical significance of serum tumor markers, particularly CEA, CA19-9, and CA72-4, in patients with gastric cancer. A systematic literature search was performed using PubMed/MEDLINE with the keywords "gastric cancer" and "tumor marker," to select 4,925 relevant reports published before the end of November 2012. A total of 187 publications contained data for CEA and CA19-9, and 19 publications contained data related to all three tumor markers. The positive rates were 21.1 % for CEA, 27.8 % for CA19-9, and 30.0 % for CA72-4. These three markers were significantly associated with tumor stage and patient survival. Serum markers are not useful for early cancer, but they are useful for detecting recurrence and distant metastasis, predicting patient survival, and monitoring after surgery. Tumor marker monitoring may be useful for patients after surgery because the positive conversion of tumor markers usually occurs 2-3 months before imaging abnormalities. Among other tumor markers, alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is useful for detecting and predicting liver metastases. Moreover, CA125 and sialyl Tn antigens (STN) are useful for detecting peritoneal metastases. Although no prospective trial has yet been completed to evaluate the clinical significance of these serum markers, this literature survey suggests that combinations of CEA, CA19-9, and CA72-4 are the most effective ways for staging before surgery or chemotherapy. In particular, monitoring tumor markers that were elevated before surgery or chemotherapy could be useful for detection of recurrence or evaluation of the response.