Modern cancer therapies should strive not only to eliminate malignant tissues but also to preserve healthy tissues and the patient's quality of life. Antigen-specific immunotherapy approaches are promising for either aspect since they are designed to only act against tissues expressing 1 or more specified tumour antigens. In order to develop successful vaccine and adoptive transfer protocols, longitudinal monitoring of cancer patients taking part in clinical trials is mandatory. Here, in vivo expansion of antigen-specific cells, as well as their ex vivo functional status represent important parameters to be analysed. To obtain results that most closely reflect the cells' in vivo status, functional assays must be carried out with as little in vitro culturing as possible. The present minireview discusses recent advances in these domains.