Nanoenabled technology holds great potential for health issues and biological research. Among the numerous inorganic nanoparticles that are available today, gold nanoparticles are fully developed as therapeutic and diagnostic agents both in vitro and in vivo due to their physicochemical properties. Owing to this, substantial work has been conducted in terms of developing biosensors for noninvasive and targeted tumor diagnosis and treatment. Some studies have even expanded into clinical trials. This article focuses on the fundamentals and synthesis of gold nanoparticles, as well as the latest, most promising applications in cancer research, such as molecular diagnostics, immunosensors, surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy and bioimaging. Challenges to their further translational development are also discussed.