There has been a recent upsurge of interest in the phenomenon now known as radiation-induced bystander effects. This is largely due to the increased awareness of the contribution of indirect and delayed effects, such as genomic instability, to cellular outcomes after low-dose exposures. It is also due to the availability of tools such as the microbeam and advanced cell culture systems and to the ability to study end points such as gene or protein expression at low doses which were previously difficult to study. This review looks at the history of bystander effects in the earlier literature, in which the clastogenic effect of plasma from irradiated patients was well known. The effect was known to persist for several years and to cause transgenerational effects, making it similar to what we now call genomic instability. The review then examines the current data and controversies which are now beginning to resolve the questions concerning the mechanisms underlying the induction and transmission of both bystander effects and genomic instability. Finally, the possible impact of data concerning radiation-induced bystander effects on radiotherapy and radiation protection is discussed.