A tumor-like multi-cellular spheroid (3D) differs from a 2D cell in a number of ways. This is demonstrated using time resolved confocal microscopy. Two different tumor spheroids-HeLa (cervical cancer) and A549 (lung cancer)-are studied using 3 different fluorescent dyes-C153 (non-covalent), CPM (covalent) and doxorubicin (non-covalent, anti-cancer drug). The pattern of localization of these three fluorescent probes in the 3D tumor cell exhibits significant differences from that in the conventional 2D cells. For both the cells (HeLa and A549), the total uptake of doxorubicin in the 3D cell is much lower than that in the 2D cell. The uptake of doxorubicin molecules in the A549 spheroid is significantly different compared to the HeLa spheroid. The local polarity (i.e. emission maxima) and solvation dynamics in the 3D tumor cell differ from those in 2D cells. The covalent probe CPM exhibits intermittent fluorescence oscillations in the 1-2 s time scale. This is attributed to redox processes. These results may provide new insights into 3D tumors. © 2016 the Owner Societies.