In breast cancer patients, hematogenous tumor cell dissemination can be detected, even at the single cell level, by applying immunocytochemical and molecular assays. Various methods for the detection of circulating tumor cells in the peripheral blood have been described. Results from recently reported studies suggest that circulating tumor cell levels may serve as a prognostic marker and for the early assessment of therapeutic response in patients with metastatic breast cancer. However, in early-stage breast cancer, the impact of circulating tumor cells is less well established than the presence of disseminated tumor cells in bone marrow; several clinical studies have demonstrated that cells of the latter type are an independent prognostic factor at primary diagnosis. In this article we briefly summarize recent studies examining the presence of circulating tumor cells in the blood and discuss further clinical applications.