Nanotechnology may help overcome persisting limitations of current cancer treatment and thus contribute to the creation of more effective, safer and more affordable therapies. While some nanotechnology-based drug delivery systems are already being marketed and others are in clinical trial, most still remain in the preclinical development stage. Mesoporous silica nanoparticles have been highlighted as an interesting drug delivery platform, due to their flexibility and high drug load potential. Although numerous reports demonstrate sophisticated drug delivery mechanisms in vitro, the therapeutic benefit of these systems for in vivo applications have been under continuous debate. This has been due to nontranslatable conditions used in the in vitro studies, as well as contradictory conclusions drawn from preclinical (in vivo) studies. However, recent studies have indicated that the encouraging cellular studies could in fact be repeated also in vivo. Here, we report on these recent advances regarding therapeutic efficacy, targeting and safety issues related to the application of mesoporous silica nanoparticles in cancer therapy. © 2012 Future Medicine Ltd.