How do normal tissues limit the development of cancer? This review discusses the evidence that normal cells effectively restrict malignant behavior, and that such tissue forces must be subjugated to establish a tumor. The action of ionizing radiation will be specifically discussed regarding the disruption of the microenvironment that promotes the transition from preneoplastic to neoplastic growth. Unlike the highly unpredictable nature of genetic mutations, the response of normal cells to radiation damage follows an epigenetic program similar to wound healing and other damage responses. Our hypothesis is that the persistent disruption of the microenvironment in irradiated tissue compromises its ability to suppress carcinogenesis.