The tumour microenvironment (TME) is a complex cellular ecosystem subjected to chemical and physical signals that play a role in shaping tumour heterogeneity, invasion and metastasis. Studying the roles of the TME in cancer progression would strongly benefit from non-invasive visualisation of the tumour as a whole organ in vivo, both preclinically in mouse models of the disease, as well as in patient tumours. Although imaging techniques exist that can probe different facets of the TME, they face several limitations, including limited spatial resolution, extended scan times and poor specificity from confounding signals. Photoacoustic imaging (PAI) is an emerging modality, currently in clinical trials, that has the potential to overcome these limitations. Here, we review the biological properties of the TME and potential of existing imaging methods that have been developed to analyse these properties non-invasively. We then introduce PAI and explore the preclinical and clinical evidence that support its use in probing multiple features of the TME simultaneously, including blood vessel architecture, blood oxygenation, acidity, extracellular matrix deposition, lipid concentration and immune cell infiltration. Finally, we highlight the future prospects and outstanding challenges in the application of PAI as a tool in cancer research and as part of a clinical oncologist’s arsenal.

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