A specially designed carbon nanotube (CNT) is developed for use in the early detection and treatment of cancer. The key functionalities for biomedical diagnosis and drug delivery are incorporated into the CNTs. In vivo imaging of live mice is achieved by intravenously injecting quantum dot (QD)-conjugated CNT for the first time. With near infrared emission around 752 nm, the CNT with surface-conjugated QD (CNT-QD) exhibit a strong luminescence for non-invasive optical in vivo imaging. CNT surface modification is achieved by a plasma polymerization approach that deposited ultra-thin acrylic acid or poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) films (∼3 nm) onto the nanotubes. The anticancer agent paclitaxel is loaded at 112.5 ± 5.8 µg mg−1 to PLGA-coated CNT. Cytotoxicity of this novel drug delivery system is evaluated in vitro using PC-3MM2 human prostate carcinoma cells and quantified by the 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay. The in vivo distribution determined by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) indicates CNT-QD uptake in various organs of live animals.