In cancer surgery, intra-operative assessment of the tumor-free margin, which is critical for the prognosis of the patient, relies on the visual appearance and palpation of the tumor. Optical imaging techniques provide real-time visualization of the tumor, warranting intra-operative image-guided surgery. Within this field, imaging in the near-infrared light spectrum offers two essential advantages: increased tissue penetration of light and an increased signal-to-background-ratio of contrast agents. In this article, we review the various techniques, contrast agents, and camera systems that are currently used for image-guided surgery. Furthermore, we provide an overview of the wide range of molecular contrast agents targeting specific hallmarks of cancer and we describe perspectives on its future use in cancer surgery.