MicroRNAs (miRNAs), the 17- to 25-nucleotide long noncoding RNAs that modulate the expression of mRNAs and proteins, have emerged as critical players in cancer initiation and progression processes. Deregulation of tissue miRNA expression levels associated with specific genetic alterations has been demonstrated in cancer, where miRNAs function either as oncogenes or as tumor-suppressor genes and are shed from cancer cells into circulation. The present review summarizes and evaluates recent advances in our understanding of the characteristics of tumor tissue miRNAs, circulating miRNAs, and the stability of miRNAs in tissues and their varying expression profiles in circulating tumor cells, and body fluids including blood plasma. These advances in knowledge have led to intense efforts towards discovery and validation of differentially expressing tumor-associated miRNAs as biomarkers and therapeutic targets of cancer. The development of tumor-specific miRNA signatures as cancer biomarkers detectable in malignant cells and body fluids should help with early detection and more effective therapeutic intervention for individual patients.