High mobility group box 1 protein (HMGB1), a nuclear protein, can be translocated to the cytoplasm and secreted in colon cancer cells. However, the diagnostic significance of HMGB1 has not been evaluated in colorectal carcinomas. For this purpose, we have screened the expression and secretion of HMGB1 in 10 colon cancer cell lines and 1 control cell line and found that HMGB1 was detected in the culture medium. To evaluate the diagnostic value of HMGB1, we performed an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay to measure HMGB1 levels and compared them to carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) levels in the serum samples of 219 colorectal carcinoma patients and 75 healthy control subjects. We found that the serum HMGB1 level was increased by 1.5-fold in patients with colorectal carcinoma compared to those in healthy controls. When HMGB1 and CEA levels were compared, HMGB1 had similar efficacy as CEA regarding cancer detection (the sensitivity was 20.1% for HMGB1 vs. 25.6% for CEA, and the specificity was 96% for HMGB1 vs. 90.7% for CEA). Moreover, the diagnostic accuracy of HMGB1 for stage I cancer was significantly higher than that of CEA (sensitivity: 41.2% vs. 5.9%; specificity: 96% vs. 90.7). When we combined HMGB1 and CEA, the overall diagnostic sensitivity was higher than that of CEA alone (42% vs. 25.6%), and the diagnostic sensitivity for stage I was also elevated (47% vs. 5.9%). However, the prognosis of patients was not related with serum HMGB1 concentrations. Our findings indicate that serum HMGB1 levels are increased in a subset of colorectal carcinomas, suggesting their potential utility as a supportive diagnostic marker for colorectal carcinomas.