Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are becoming a scientifically recognized indicator of primary tumors and/or metastasis. These cells can now be accurately detected and characterized as the result of technological advances. We analyzed the presence of CTCs in the peripheral blood of patients with metastatic breast cancer by real-time reverse-transcription PCR (RT-qPCR) using a panel of selected genes. The analysis of a single marker, without an EpCAM based enrichment approach, allowed the positive identification of 35% of the metastatic breast cancer patients. The analysis of five genes (SCGB2, TFF1, TFF3, Muc1, KRT20) performed in all the samples increased the detection to 61%. We describe a sensitive, reproducible and easy to implement approach to characterize CTC in patients with metastasic breast cancer. © 2013 Lasa et al.