PURPOSE: The survival of patients with metastatic breast cancer has not substantially improved during the last decade. Serum tumor markers, such as carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA), the mucin associated cancer antigen (CA15-3) and the tissue polypeptide specific antigen (TPS) have been used for monitoring and detecting recurrences in patients with diagnosed breast cancer. However, their precise role in the management of patients with breast carcinoma has not yet been firmly established. METHODS: CEA, CA15-3 and TPS were measured serially in a consecutive series of 136 patients (56 patients with recurrent cases and 70 patients with no evidence of recurrence) with breast cancer. Relationships between tumor marker levels and sites of recurrent disease were evaluated. The mean follow-up period was 38 months. RESULTS: Among the recurrent patients, local recurrences accounted for 16 cases (28.6%), bone metastasis for 10 cases (21.4%) and multiple metastasis for 18 cases (32.2%). Tumor markers in cases of organ or multiple metastases were higher than in cases of local recurrence. The sensitivity and the specificity of the tumor markers in patients with breast carcinomas were 44.6 and 94% for CEA, 51.8 and 99% for CA15-3, and 66.07 and 94% for TPS, respectively. CONCLUSION: Serial measurements of plasma CEA, CA15-3 and TPS are a cost-effective method to detect recurrence in breast carcinoma patients.