MicroRNA-195 (miR-195) is a tumor suppressor that plays an important role in tumorigenesis. There are few studies on miR-195 expression in breast cancer patients and the results have been inconsistent; therefore, this study examined miR-195 expression in the serum of BC patients. Samples from 102 normal subjects and 210 subjects with BC who had detailed clinical follow-up information available were selected. An internal reference (miR-16) and serum miR-195 were amplified and quantitatively detected by SYBR green-based real-time RT-PCR. We analyzed the differences in miR-195 levels between BC and healthy cases and the relationships between the miR-195 level and TNM stage and other clinicopathological parameters. In addition, changes in miR-195 levels were examined for 21 BC cases using paired samples before and after neoadjuvant chemotherapy. miR-195 was downregulated in BC compared with control samples (P = 0.000, Mann-Whitney U test). The sensitivity and specificity of miR-195 in the diagnosis of BC were 69.0 and 89.2 %, respectively; whereas, the sensitivities of carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) and carbohydrate antigen 153 (CA153) were only 15.08 and 21.1 %, respectively. Remarkably, serum miR-195 had higher sensitivity, 73.97 % (108/146), as a tumor marker in the diagnosis of early stage BC [ductal carcinoma in situ, tumor-node-metastasis (TNM) I, II] compared with the conventional tumor markers CA153 and CEA (12.41 and 7.59 %). Moreover, compared with CEA and CA153, miR-195 had a higher sensitivity for detecting the response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy and significantly increased, more than twofold, after neoadjuvant chemotherapy (P = 0.025, paired t test) in 52.381 % (11/21) of BC cases. However, there were no significant relationships between miR-195 expression and other clinicopathological parameters (TNM stage/pathotype/ER/PR/lymph node status). Our data indicate serum miR-195 is a promising tumor marker for BC diagnosis and general screening, especially for early stage BC. The high sensitivity of miR-195 to neoadjuvant chemotherapy may lay the foundation for future studies on the use of miRNA-based methods for monitoring BC treatment and therapy.