Today, technologies based on magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) are routinely applied to biological systems with diagnostic or therapeutic purposes. The paradigmatic example is the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a technique that uses the magnetic moments of MNPs as a disturbance of the proton resonance to obtain images. Similarly, magnetic fluid hyperthermia (MFH) uses MNPs as heat generators to induce localized cell death. The physical basis of these techniques relies on the interaction with external magnetic fields, and therefore the magnetic moment of the particles has to be maximized for these applications. Targeted drug-delivery based on ‘smart’ nanoparticles is the next step towards more efficient oncologic therapies, by delivering a minimal dose of drug only to the vicinity of the target. Current improvements in this fields relay on a) particle functionalization with specific ligands for targeting cell membrane receptors and b) loading MNPs onto cells (e.g., dendritic cells, T-cells, macrophages) having an active role in tumor grow. Here we review the current state of research on applications of magnetic carriers for cancer therapy, discussing the advances and drawbacks of both passive and targeted delivery of MNPs. The most promising strategies for targeted delivery of MNPs are analyzed, evaluating the expected impact on clinical MRI and MFH protocols.