There is an urgent need for blood-based, noninvasive molecular tests to assist in the detection and diagnosis of cancers in a cost-effective manner at an early stage, when curative interventions are still possible. Additionally, blood-based diagnostics can classify tumors into distinct molecular subtypes and monitor disease relapse and response to treatment. Increasingly, biomarker strategies are becoming critical to identify a specific patient subpopulation that is likely to respond to a new therapeutic agent. The improved understanding of the underlying molecular features of common cancers and the availability of a multitude of recently developed technologies to interrogate the genome, transcriptome, proteome and metabolome of tumors and biological fluids have made it possible to develop clinically applicable and cost-effective tests for many common cancers. Overall, the paradigm shift towards personalized and individualized medicine relies heavily on the increased use of diagnostic biomarkers and classifiers to improve diagnosis, management and treatment. International collaborations, involving both the private and public sector will be required to facilitate the development of clinical applications of biomarkers, using rigorous standardized assays. Here, we review the recent technological and scientific advances in this field.