A quantitative bio-imaging platform is developed for analysis of human cancer dissemination in a short-term vertebrate xenotransplantation assay. Six days after implantation of cancer cells in zebrafish embryos, automated imaging in 96 well plates coupled to image analysis algorithms quantifies spreading throughout the host. Findings in this model correlate with behavior in long-term rodent xenograft models for panels of poorly- versus highly malignant cell lines derived from breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer. In addition, cancer cells with scattered mesenchymal characteristics show higher dissemination capacity than cell types with epithelial appearance. Moreover, RNA interference establishes the metastasis-suppressor role for E-cadherin in this model. This automated quantitative whole animal bio-imaging assay can serve as a first-line in vivo screening step in the anti-cancer drug target discovery pipeline.