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Tumor targeting is a booming business: The global therapeutic monoclonal antibody market accounted for more than $78 billion in 2012 and is expanding exponentially. Tumors can be targeted with an extensive arsenal of monoclonal antibodies, ligand proteins, peptides, RNAs, and small molecules. In addition to therapeutic targeting, some of these compounds can also be applied for tumor visualization before or during surgery, after conjugation with radionuclides and/or near-infrared fluorescent dyes. The majority of these tumor-targeting compounds are directed against cell membrane-bound proteins. Various categories of targetable membrane-bound proteins, such as anchoring proteins, receptors, enzymes, and transporter proteins, exist. The functions and biological characteristics of these proteins determine their location and distribution on the cell membrane, making them more, or less, accessible, and therefore, it is important to understand these features. In this review, we evaluate the characteristics of cancer-associated membrane proteins and discuss their overall usability for cancer targeting, especially focusing on imaging applications.
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