The success of anti-cancer therapy largely relies on the development of high-efficient, low-toxic, long-circulated, and cancertargeted drug delivery systems. Currently used pharmaceutical nanocarriers, such as polymeric nanoparticles (NPs), liposomes, micelles, nanoemulsions, and many others demonstrate a variety of useful properties, including long circulation in the blood allowing for their accumulation in cancer sites with fenestrated vasculature and poor lymphatic drainage. Surface-modification of nanocarriers is attractive for their enhanced functions on imaging, targeting and delivery. Due to various targeting ligands attached to the surface of the nanocarriers, they could prolong circulation time, increase drug bioavailability, reduce undesirable side effects, and minimize non-specific uptake thus allow for specific cancer-targeting to certain target cells within the cancer sites or even intracellular localization to target organelles. This review highlights the different types of the surface modification of various drug or gene loaded nanocarriers for cancer therapy, focusing on their modification methods, advantages, applications and the probable associated drawbacks.