Heptamethine cyanine dyes are categorized as a class of near infrared fluorescent (NIRF) dyes which have been discovered to have tumor targeting and accumulation capability. This unique feature of NIRF dye makes it a promising candidate for imaging, targeted therapy and also as a drug delivery vehicle for various types of cancers. The favored uptake of dyes only in cancer cells is facilitated by several factors which include organic anion-transporting polypeptides, high mitochondrial membrane potential and tumor hypoxia in cancer cells. Currently nanotechnology has opened possibilities for multimodal or multifunctional strategies for cancer treatment. Including heptamethine cyanine dyes in nanoparticle based delivery systems have generally improved its theranostic ability by several fold owing to the multiple functionalities and structural features of heptamethine dyes. For this reason, nanocomplexes with NIRF heptamethine cyanine dye probe are preferred over non-targeting dyes such as indo cyanine green (ICG). This review sums up current trends and progress in NIRF heptamethine cyanine dye, including dye properties, multifunctional imaging and therapeutic applications in cancer.