The aim of this prospective study was to relate the incidences of cytokeratin 20 (CK20) and guanylylcyclase C (GCC) in lymph node, liver, and bone marrow specimens of 245 colorectal cancer (CRC) patients with the K-ras oncogene status of the corresponding primary tumor. Qualitative RT-PCR detection of CK20 and GCC mRNA was used as marker of circulating epithelial cells (CEC). Samples were considered positive for CEC only when both markers were detected concomitantly. For the detection of K-ras mutations, a PCR-RFLP assay was used. In the group with K-ras mutated primary carcinomas (n=92), CEC were detected in 62% of lymph node-, 43% of liver-, and 2% of bone marrow samples. No statistical significance was found when comparing these results with those from patients with K-ras wild-type carcinoma (59%, 46%, and 0%, respectively). In contrast to this combined evaluation, separate analysis of K-ras codons 12 (n=75, 82%) and 13 (n=17, 18%) revealed significantly differing CEC incidences. Lymph node specimens from corresponding K-ras codon 13 mutated carcinomas showed a significantly higher CEC incidence (82%) than the groups with codon 12 mutation (57%, p<0.05) or K-ras wild-type sequence (59%, p<0.05). Unlike these findings in lymph nodes, liver biopsies from corresponding carcinomas with K-ras codon 12 mutation or wild-type sequence were significantly more often positive for CEC (31% and 29%) than specimens from K-ras codon 13 mutated primary CRC (12%, p<0.04, respectively). In conclusion, colorectal carcinomas with K-ras codon 12 mutation showed the same pattern of tumor cell dissemination as their K-ras wild-type counterparts. Since K-ras codon 12 mutations prevailed 4-fold over codon 13 mutations, combined analysis of the two codons showed the same result. However, sub-analysis of patients with K-ras codon 13 mutation revealed that the respective CEC incidence was significantly increased in lymph nodes, but decreased in liver biopsies.