Due to the extraordinary complexity of human cancer, it will remain challenging for at least the next decade to fully understand mechanisms of disease onset, to detect and monitor progression, to target cancer initiating cells, and to deliver the most efficient therapeutics. Innovations in materials science and technology are urgently needed to address these challenges and advance clinical practice in cancer diagnosis and treatment. New hydrogel materials are able to incorporate tumor and stromal cells in a 3D system to potentially recapitulate a tumor microenvironment and model tumor progression. Nanoparticles functionalized with tumor targeting ligands enable more effective delivery of imaging contrast agents and therapeutics for either early stage diagnosis or more efficacious treatment with reduced side effects. Nanostructured materials provide a significantly increased surface area-to-volume ratio and unique bio-nano interfaces for high efficiency capture of various biomarkers, including low-abundance proteins or nucleic acids as well as cancer-associated whole cells. Materials surface science is increasingly recognized as a key component in the development of innovative molecular analytic technology for high fidelity and low biofouling assays. Integrated devices that incorporate new materials, surface chemistries, 3D architectures, fluid mechanics, and/or automation systems are developed to accurately interrogate tumor cell dynamics, functional state, and response to therapy at the single cell resolution. Combining quantitative molecular interrogation and physical science principles such as thermodynamics, phase transition, and transport theories provides new insights into understanding the mechanisms of cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis. Therefore, the advances in materials science and technology are expanding the territory of cancer research, triggering new thinking about fundamental mechanisms of this disease and finding new routes toward a cure. The topical focus underscores the rapidly growing interests in materials science research to help battle human cancer. It broadly encompasses all the aspects ranging from basic principles, new materials, systems integration, and translational and clinical utilities for cancer research and treatment.