Nanotechnology is an emerging, rapidly evolving field with the potential to significantly impact care across the full spectrum of cancer therapy. Of note, several recent nanotechnological advances show particular promise to improve outcomes for thoracic surgical patients. A variety of nanotechnologies are described that offer possible solutions to existing challenges encountered in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. Nanotechnology-based imaging platforms have the ability to improve the surgical care of patients with thoracic malignancies through technological advances in intraoperative tumour localization, lymph node mapping and accuracy of tumour resection. Moreover, nanotechnology is poised to revolutionize adjuvant lung cancer therapy. Common chemotherapeutic drugs, such as paclitaxel, docetaxel and doxorubicin, are being formulated using various nanotechnologies to improve drug delivery, whereas nanoparticle (NP)-based imaging technologies can monitor the tumour microenvironment and facilitate molecularly targeted lung cancer therapy. Although early nanotechnology-based delivery systems show promise, the next frontier in lung cancer therapy is the development of ‘theranostic’ multifunctional NPs capable of integrating diagnosis, drug monitoring, tumour targeting and controlled drug release into various unifying platforms. This article provides an overview of key existing and emerging nanotechnology platforms that may find clinical application in thoracic surgery in the near future.