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Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) is a promising target for the imaging of cancer in a range of diagnostic and therapeutic settings. We report a near-infrared COX-2-targeted probe, fluorocoxib C (FC), for visualization of solid tumors by optical imaging. FC exhibits selective and potent COX-2 inhibition in both purified protein and human cancercell lines. In vivo optical imaging shows selective accumulation of FC in COX-2-overexpressing human tumor xenografts [1483 head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)] implanted in nude mice, while minimal uptake is detectable in COX-2-negative tumor xenografts (HCT116)or 1483 HNSCC xenografts preblocked with the COX-2-selective inhibitor celecoxib. Time course imaging studies conducted from 3 h to 7-day post-FC injection revealed a marked reduction in nonspecific fluorescent signals with retention of fluorescence in 1483 HNSCC tumors. Thus, use of FC in a delayed imaging protocol offers an approach to improve imaging signal-to-noise that should improve cancer detection in multiple preclinical and clinical settings.