Aims: To evaluate the clinical inference of serum alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) response in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients undergoing percutaneous radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Materials and methods: Three hundred and thirteen previously untreated HCC patients were enrolled in the study. The optimal AFP response was defined as >20% decrease from baseline after 1 month of RFA for those with a baseline AFP level of ≥100 ng/ml. The impact of AFP response on prognosis was analysed and prognostic factors were assessed. Results: After a median follow-up of 26.7 ± 19.1 months, 49 patients died and 264 patients were alive. The cumulative 5 year survival rates were 75.3 and 57.4% in patients with an initial AFP of <100 ng/ml and ≥100 ng/ml, respectively (p = 0.003). In the 58 patients with a baseline AFP of ≥100 ng/ml and initial completed tumour necrosis after RFA, the cumulative 5 year survival rates were 62.4 and 25.7% in optimal and non-optimal AFP responders, respectively (p = 0.001). By multivariate analysis, the prothrombin time international normalized ratio >1.1 (p = 0.009), non-optimal AFP response (p = 0.023), and creatinine >1.5 mg/dl (p = 0.021) were independent risk factors predictive of poor overall survival. Besides, the cumulative 5 year recurrence rates were 83.4 and 100% in optimal and non-optimal AFP responders, respectively (p < 0.001). Multivariate analysis demonstrated platelet count ≤105/mm 3 (p = 0.048), tumour size >2 cm (p = 0.027), and non-optimal AFP response (p < 0.001) were independent risk factors associated with tumour recurrence after RFA. Conclusions: Serum AFP response may be a useful marker for predicting prognosis in HCC patients undergoing RFA.