Cancer is a major cause of death worldwide, and its incidence and mortality continuously increase in China. Nowadays, cancer heavily influences our health and constitutes enormous burden on society and families. Although there are many tools for cancer treatment, but the overall therapeutic effect is poor. In addition, cancer cells often develop resistance to therapy due to defective cell death or immune escape mechanisms. Therefore, it is a promising way for cancer treatment to effectively activate apoptosis and conquer immunosuppression. RIG-I-like receptors (RLRs) belong to RNA-sensing pattern recognition receptors (PRRs), one of the major subsets of PRRs, and play a critical role in sensing RNA viruses and initiate host antiviral responses such as the production of type I interferons (IFNs), proinflammatory cytokines, and other immune response molecules. Recent studies have demonstrated that tumor cells could mimic viral infection to activate viral recognition of immune system and the activation of interferon response pathway. RIG-I and MDA5, two members of RLRs family, could induce growth inhibition or apoptosis of multiple types of cancer cells on the activation by RNA ligands in IFN-dependent or IFN-independent approach. Previous studies have reviewed PRRs as promising immunotherapy targets for colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer. However, until now, a comprehensive review on the role of RLRs in the development and treatment of various cancers is still lacking. In this article, we reviewed the latest studies on the roles as well as the mechanisms of RIG-I and MDA5 in the development of various cancers and therapeutic potentials of targeting RIG-I and MDA5 for cancer treatment.