Although all cancers share common hallmarks, we have long realized that there is no silver-bullet treatment for the disease. Many clinical oncologists specialize in a single cancer type, based predominantly on the tissue of origin. With advances brought by genetics and cancer genomic research, we now know that cancers are profoundly different, both in origins and in genetic alterations. At the same time, commonalities such as key driver mutations, altered pathways, mutational, immune and microbial signatures and other areas (many revealed by pan-cancer studies) point to the intriguing possibility of targeting common traits across diverse cancer types with the same therapeutic strategies. Studies designed to delineate differences and similarities across cancer types are thus critical in discerning the basic dynamics of oncogenesis, as well as informing diagnoses, prognoses and therapies. We anticipate growing emphases on the development and application of therapies targeting underlying commonalities of different cancer types, while tailoring to the unique tissue environment and intrinsic molecular fingerprints of each cancer type and subtype. Here we summarize the facets of pan-cancer research and how they are pushing progress toward personalized medicine.