The presence of circulating tumor cells (CTC) is an independent prognostic factor for progression-free and overall survival for patients with metastatic and newly diagnosed breast cancer. The present study was undertaken to explore whether the presence of CTC before and during follow-up after surgery is associated with recurrence free survival (RFS) and overall survival (OS). In a prospective single center study, CTC were enumerated with the CellSearch system in 30 ml of peripheral blood of 403 stage I-III patients before undergoing surgery for breast cancer (A) and if available 1 week after surgery (B), after adjuvant chemo- and/or radiotherapy or before start of long-term hormonal therapy (C), one (D), two (E) and three (F) years after surgery. Patients were stratified into unfavorable (CTC≥1) and favorable (CTC=0) prognostic groups. >1 CTC in 30 ml blood was detected in 75/403 (19%) at A, 66/367 (18%) at B, 40/263 (15%) at C, 30/235 (12%) at D, 18/144 (11%) at E and 11/83 (13%) at F. RFS and OS was significantly lower for unfavorable CTC as compared to favorable CTC before surgery (p=0.022 and p=0.006), after adjuvant therapy (p<0.001 and p=0.018) and one (p=0.006 and p=0.013) and two (p<0.001 and p=0.045) years after surgery, but not 1 week post-surgery. The presence of CTC in blood drawn pre and one and two years after surgery, but not post-surgery is associated with shorter RFS and OS for stage I-III breast cancer.