As a DNA repair protein, flap endonuclease 1 (FEN1), a structure-specific 5' nuclease, plays pivotal roles in the maturation of Okazaki fragments, long-patch base excision repair, restarting of stalled replication forks and telomere maintenance. FEN1 possesses 5' endonuclease, 5' exonuclease and gap-endonuclease activities, which render it an essential node in maintaining genome fidelity. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between the expression level of FEN1 and gastric cancer and to explore the role of FEN1 in carcinogenesis and the progression of gastric cancer. The mRNA and protein expression of FEN1 in 42 matched pairs of human gastric tumor tissues and corresponding normal tissues were measured by semiquantitative reverse transcription-PCR and immunohistochemical staining. FEN1 expression was downregulated in the SGC-7901 gastric cancer cells following transfection with siRNA targeting the FEN1 gene. Western blot analysis was used to evaluate the protein expression of FEN1 in SGC-7901 human gastric cancer cells in order to verify the transfection efficiency of FEN1 siRNA. Moreover, cell proliferation was analyzed by MTS assay. The apoptosis of the cells was determined by flow cytometry. Our results revealed that FEN1 was overexpressed in gastric cancer in comparison to the corresponding normal gastric tissues (P<0.01). We further confirmed that FEN1 expression has a positive correlation with the degree of differentiation (P=0.027), lymphatic metastasis (P=0.001), tumor size (P=0.026) and TNM stage (P=0.020) of gastric cancer. A high FEN1 expression in SGC-7901 cells can be effectively downregulated by siRNA constructed to target the FEN1 gene. Moreover, the inhibition of FEN1 expression suppressed the proliferation and induced the apoptosis of SGC-7901 cells. Taken together, our results indicate that FEN1 may be a promising biomarker for the diagnosis of gastric cancer and individual therapy.