Photoacoustic (PA) imaging has emerged as a powerful technique for the high resolution visualization of biological processes within deep tissue. Through the development and application of exogenous targeted contrast agents and activatable probes that can respond to a given cancer biomarker, researchers can image molecular events in vivo during cancer progression. This information can provide valuable details that can facilitate cancer diagnosis and therapy monitoring. In this tutorial review, we provide a step-by-step guide to select a cancer biomarker and subsequent approaches to design imaging agents for in vivo use. We envision this information will be a useful summary to those in the field, new members to the community, and graduate students taking advanced imaging coursework. We also highlight notable examples from the recent literature, with emphasis on the molecular designs and their in vivo PA imaging performance. To conclude, we provide our outlook and future perspective in this exciting field.

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