We have studied the potential of gold nanorods to target cancer cells and provide contrast for photoacoustic imaging. The elongated "rod" shape of these nanoparticles provides a mechanism to tune their plasmon peak absorption wavelength. The absorption peak is shifted to longer wavelengths by increasing the aspect ratio of the rods. Particles IS nm in diameter and 45 nm long were prepared using a seed mediated growth method. Their plasmon absorption peak was designed to be at 800 nm for increased penetration depth into biological tissue. They were conjugated with a specific antibody to target prostate cancer cells. We have applied photoacoustics to image a prostate cell culture targeted by conjugated gold particles. Images confirm the efficiency of conjugated particle binding to the targeted cell membranes. Photoacoustic detection of a single cell layer is demonstrated. To evaluate the applicability of the technique to clinical prostate cancer detection, we have imaged phantom objects mimicking a real tissue with small (2 mm size) inclusions of nanoparticle gel solution. Our photoacoustic imaging setup is based on a modified commercial ultrasonic scanner which makes it attractive for fast implementation in cancer diagnosis in clinical application. In addition, the setup allows for dual mode operation where a photoacoustic image is superimposed on a conventional B-mode ultrasound image. Dual mode operation is demonstrated by imaging a mouse with gold nanorod gel solution implanted in its hind limb.