The aim of this study was to identify tumor-specific markers for the detection of rare disseminated colorectal tumor cells in peripheral venous blood and in intra-peritoneal saline lavage samples collected before and after resection of colorectal tumors. Using cDNA micro-array screening, we found dipeptidase 1 (DPEP1) to be highly expressed in colon tumors compared to matched normal mucosa. Relative reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR showed that DPEP1 was over-expressed by >/=2 fold in colon tumor compared to normal colonic mucosal tissue in 56/68 (82%) patients. Using immunobead RT-PCR, a technique that first enriches for epithelial cells, we found DPEP1 positive cells in intra-peritoneal lavage and venous blood samples from 15/38 (39%) colorectal cancer cases. This is the first report of DPEP1 as a marker for disseminated colon tumor cells.