Background: We sought to examine the detection rate of cancer cells in peripheral blood (PBL) and in bone marrow (BM) using an established 7-gene marker panel and evaluated whether there were any definable associations of any individual gene with traditional predictors of prognosis. Methods: Patients with T1-T3 primary breast cancer were enrolled into a prospective, multi-institutional cohort study. In this interim analysis 215 PBL and 177 BM samples were analyzed by multimarker, real-time RT-PCR analysis designed to detect circulating and disseminated breast cancer cells. Results: At a threshold of three standard deviations fromthe mean expression level of normal controls, 63% (136/215) of PBL and 11% (19/177) of BM samples were positive for at least one cancer-associated marker. Marker positivity in PBL demonstrated a statistically significant association with grade II-III (vs. grade I; p = 0.0083). Overexpression of the mammaglobin (mam) gene alone had a statistically significant association with high tumor grade (p = 0.0315), and showed a trend towards ER-negative tumors and a high risk category. There was no association between marker positivity in PBL and the pathologic (H&E) and/or molecular (RT-PCR) status of the axillary lymph nodes (ALN). Conclusion: This study suggests that molecular detection of circulating cancer cells in PBL detected by RT-PCR is associated with high tumor grade and specifically that overexpression of the mam gene in PBL may be a poor prognostic indicator. There was no statistically significant association between overexpression of cancer-associated genes in PBL and ALN status, supporting the concept of two potentially separate metastatic pathways.