A major field of interest in nuclear medicine is in vivo tumor characterization and measurement of biological processes at cellular and molecular levels by means of positron emission tomography (PET) or single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). Functional imaging with radiopharmaceuticals represents a useful noninvasive tool to evaluate the biological status of the tumor and its progression. The properties of radiopharmaceuticals are exploited for initial staging of cancer, assessment of recurrent or residual disease and, more recently, considerable progress has been made in the field of the evaluation of tumor response to treatment. PET and SPECT can both detect changes in tumor activity caused by therapy or disease progression before any detectable change in tumor volume. Measurement of tumor response to therapy using PET and SPECT is the subject of intense investigations because it may result in individualization of treatment and may have a prognostic value for long-term outcome. This review focuses on the various methods used to monitor anticancer therapy with a variety of clinically approved or investigational tracers. We summarize the mechanisms of radiopharmaceutical uptake based on certain physiological activities affected by treatment: proliferation, apoptosis, hypoxia, angiogenesis and multidrug resistance (MDR).