Great interest is presently given to the analysis of metabolic changes that take place specifically in cancer cells. In this review we summarize the alterations in glycolysis, glutamine utilization, fatty acid synthesis and mitochondrial function that have been reported to occur in cancer cells and in human tumors. We then propose considering cancer as a system-level disease and argue how two hallmarks of cancer, enhanced cell proliferation and evasion from apoptosis, may be evaluated as system-level properties, and how this perspective is going to modify drug discovery. Given the relevance of the analysis of metabolism both for studies on the molecular basis of cancer cell phenotype and for clinical applications, the more relevant technologies for this purpose, from metabolome and metabolic flux analysis in cells by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Mass Spectrometry technologies to positron emission tomography on patients, are analyzed. The perspectives offered by specific changes in metabolism for a new drug discovery strategy for cancer are discussed and a survey of the industrial activity already going on in the field is reported.