The principal aim of our study was to investigate the usefulness of serum protein and circulating mRNA of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) as a diagnostic and prognostic tool in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Fifty-four HCC patients and age- and sex-matched 20 healthy controls were enrolled into this study. Pretreatment serum IGF-1 and IGF-1 mRNA were determined by the solid-phase sandwich ELISA and quantitative RT-PCR method, respectively. The median age at diagnosis was 60 years, range 36-77 years; where majority of group were male (n = 48, 88.8 %). All patients had cirrhotic history. Forty-six percent (n = 25) of patients had Child-Pugh score A, 30 % (n = 16) had score B or C. All of the patients were treated with local therapies and none of them received sorafenib. The baseline serum IGF-1 mRNA levels were significantly higher in HCC patients than in the control group (p = 0.04), whereas no significant difference was observed for IGF-1 protein levels between the two group (p = 0.18). Patients with history of HBV infection, who were not treated, and who received multiple palliative treatment for HCC had higher serum IGF-1 mRNA levels (p = 0.03, 0.03, and 0.05, respectively). Poor performance status (p < 0.001), viral etiology of cirrhosis (p = 0.03), larger tumor size (p = 0.01), lower serum hemoglobin levels (p = 0.03), and not be treated for HCC (p = 0.001) related to worse survival. However, neither serum IGF-1 nor serum IGF-1 mRNA had significantly adverse effect on survival (p = 0.53 and 0.42, respectively).