Cancer is one of the major causes of mortality worldwide and advanced techniques for therapy are urgently needed. The development of novel nanomaterials and nanocarriers has allowed a major drive to improve drug delivery in cancer. The major aim of most nanocarrier applications has been to protect the drug from rapid degradation after systemic delivery and allowing it to reach tumor site at therapeutic concentrations, meanwhile avoiding drug delivery to normal sites as much as possible to reduce adverse effects. These nanocarriers are formulated to deliver drugs either by passive targeting, taking advantage of leaky tumor vasculature or by active targeting using ligands that increase tumoral uptake potentially resulting in enhanced antitumor efficacy, thus achieving a net improvement in therapeutic index. The rational design of nanoparticles plays a critical role since structural and physical characteristics, such as size, charge, shape, and surface characteristics determine the biodistribution, pharmacokinetics, internalization and safety of the drugs. In this review, we focus on several novel and improved strategies in nanocarrier design for cancer therapy.