Background: To investigate serum carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) as a prognostic factor for rectal cancer patients receiving pre-operative chemoradiotherapy (CRT). Methods: Between 2000 and 2009, 138 patients with advanced rectal cancer receiving CRT before surgery at our hospital were retrospectively classified into 3 groups: pre-CRT CEA <6 ng/ml (group L; n = 87); pre-CRT CEA ≥ 6 ng/ml and post-CRT CEA <6 ng/ml (group H-L; n = 32); and both pre- and post-CRT CEA ≥ 6 ng/ml (group H-H; n = 19). CEA ratio (defined as post-CRT CEA divided by pre-CRT CEA), post-CRT CEA level and other factors were reviewed for prediction of pathologic complete response (pCR). Results: Five-year disease-free survival (DFS) was better in groups L (69.0%) and H-L (74.5%) than in group H-H (44.9%) (p = 0.024). Pathologic complete response was observed in 19.5%, 21.9% and 5.3% of groups L, H-L and H-H respectively (p = 0.281). Multivariate analysis showed that ypN stage and pCR were independent prognostic factors for DFS and that post-CRT CEA level was independently predictive of pCR. As a whole, post-CRT CEA <2.61 ng/ml predicted pCR (sensitivity 76.0%; specificity 58.4%). For those with pre-CRT CEA ≥6 ng/ml, post-CRT CEA and CEA ratio both predicted pCR (sensitivity 87.5%, specificity 76.7%). Conclusions: In patients with pre-CRT serum CEA ≥6 ng/ml, those with " normalized" CEA levels after CRT may have similar DFS to those with " normal" (<6 ng/ml) pre-CRT values. Post-CRT CEA level is a predictor for pCR, especially in those with pre-CRT CEA ≥6 ng/ml.