Epithelial tumor cells circulate in peripheral blood at ultra-low concentrations in cancer patients. We have developed an instrument capable of rapid and accurate detection of rare cells in circulation utilizing fiber-optic array scanning technology (FAST). The FAST cytometer can locate immunofluorescently labeled rare cells on glass substrates at scan rates 500 times faster than conventional automated digital microscopy. These high scan rates are achieved by collecting fluorescent emissions using a fiber bundle with a large (50 mm) field of view. Very high scan rates make possible the ability to detect rare events without the requirement for an enrichment step. The FAST cytometer was used to detect, image and re-image circulating tumor cells in peripheral blood of breast cancer patients. This technology has the potential to serve as a clinically useful point-of-care diagnostic and a prognostic tool for cancer clinicians. The use of a fixed substrate permits the re-identification and re-staining of cells allowing for additional morphologic and biologic information to be obtained from previously collected and identified cells.