IR780, a molecule with a strong optical absorption and emission in the near infrared (NIR) region, is receiving an increasing attention from researchers working in the area of cancer treatment and imaging. Upon irradiation with NIR light, IR780 can produce reactive oxygen species as well as increase the body temperature, thus being a promising agent for application in cancer photodynamic and photothermal therapy. However, IR780's poor water solubility, fast clearance, acute toxicity and low tumor uptake may limit its use. To overcome such issues, several types of nanomaterials have been used to encapsulate and deliver IR780 to tumor cells. This mini-review is focused on the application of IR780 based nanostructures for cancer imaging, and photothermal, photodynamic and combinatorial therapies.