The application of nanotechnology for the treatment of cancer is mostly based on early tumor detection and diagnosis by nanodevices capable of selective targeting and delivery of chemotherapeutic drugs to the specific tumor site. Due to the remarkable properties of gold nanoparticles, they have long been considered as a potential tool for diagnosis of various cancers and for drug delivery applications. These properties include high surface area to volume ratio, surface plasmon resonance, surface chemistry and multi-functionalization, facile synthesis, and stable nature. Moreover, the non-toxic and non-immunogenic nature of gold nanoparticles and the high permeability and retention effect provide additional benefits by enabling easy penetration and accumulation of drugs at the tumor sites. Various innovative approaches with gold nanoparticles are under development. In this review, we provide an overview of recent progress made in the application of gold nanoparticles in the treatment of cancer by tumor detection, drug delivery, imaging, photothermal and photodynamic therapy and their current limitations in terms of bioavailability and the fate of the nanoparticles.