Overexpression of fatty acid synthase (FAS EC 220.127.116.11) is associated with certain cancers and therefore is a putative tumor marker. The presence of FAS in patients with breast, prostate, colon, ovarian, and other cancers has been reported. The mechanism of FAS overexpression in malignancies remains unknown. Here, we show that FAS is released into the extracellular space in cancer cells. The extracellular FAS are present in various immunoreactive forms, and show different expression patterns in various cancer cells. In serum of breast cancer patients, the FAS is a small molecule similar to the form in breast cancer cell lysate but not conditioned medium of cultured cells. The extracellular expression of FAS in breast cancer cells is time dependent and may be hormone independent. These results indicate that the FAS are an ordered cellular response of a living cell and actively exclude excess intracellular FAS molecules from the cell. This phenomenon is up-regulated in breast and may be in other cancer cells as well. Significant elevation of FAS was detected in serum of breast cancer patients compared to healthy subjects. In comparison with CA27.29, no correlation between these two tumor markers was found. Thus, the extracellular FAS may serve as a potential diagnostic and prognostic marker.