Recently superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) have been extensively used in cancer therapy and diagnosis (theranostics) via magnetic targeting, magnetic resonance imaging, etc. due to their remarkable magnetic properties, chemical stability, and biocompatibility. However, the magnetic properties of SPIONs are influenced by various physicochemical and synthesis parameters. So, this review mainly focuses on the influence of spin canting effects, introduced by the variations in size, shape, and organic/inorganic surface coatings, on the magnetic properties of SPIONs. This review also describes the several predominant chemical synthesis procedures and role of the synthesis parameters for monitoring the size, shape, crystallinity and composition of the SPIONs. Moreover, this review discusses about the latest developments of the inorganic materials and organic polymers for encapsulation of the SPIONs. Finally, the most recent advancements of the SPIONs and their nanopackages in combination with other imaging/therapeutic agents have been comprehensively discussed for their effective usage as in vitro and in vivo theranostic agents in cancer treatments. © 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.