Human colon cancer affects nearly 150,000 patients and results in 60,000 deaths in the United States per year. Despite significant advances in the management of the colon cancer patient, little change in survival rates has been appreciated over the past 50 years. The primary cause of death relates to the development of distant metastases to organs such as the liver and lungs. Colon cancer represents an important disease to study in order to better understand tumor progression and metastasis primarily because there is almost a stepwise advancement of the disease that is marked by measurable genetic and associated phenotypic alterations. Metastasis appears to be the end product of the development of 'Herculean' cell clones capable of independent growth, invasion, adhesion, avoidance of apoptosis, and angiogenesis. Although significant progress has been made in understanding the sequential genetic events leading to the development of cancer, the precise genes and the associated molecular pathways underlying the development of metastatic potential are still poorly understood. Moreover, our enhanced genetic knowledge has had relatively little trickle down effect on our clinical management of this deadly disease. For this reason, we undertook a comprehensive study to develop a molecular encyclopedia of new tumor markers and markers of tumor progression, some of which will hopefully prove useful in the clinical management of colon cancer patients by means of their capacity to detect and predict the stage and disease burden. This review will focus on the application of gene expression profiling technology to the problem of identifying new tumor markers and progression markers, and the discovery of osteopontin as the leading candidate clinical marker derived from a screen of approximately 12,000 named genes.