Using a series of gold nanoparticles with incremental increase in dimensions but varying geometries (spherical vs rods) we have evaluated the influence of shape, size, surface properties and concentration on cellular uptake, adsorption of proteins and toxicity in a human prostate cancer cell line (PC-3). In the range of 30–90 nm diameter studied, spherical particles of 50 nm in diameter without polyethylene glycol (PEG) had the highest uptake. Surface attachment of PEG reduced cellular uptake. PEGylated gold nanorods had a net positive charge compared with their spherical counterparts and particle geometry influenced cellular uptake. In the absence of serum proteins the uptake of plain spherical GNPs increased. These studies pave the way for the tailoring of gold nanoparticles for targeted tumor therapy applications. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.