The use of radiation therapy to treat cancer inevitably involves exposure of normal tissues. As a result, patients may experience symptoms associated with damage to normal tissue during the course of therapy for a few weeks after therapy or months or years later. Symptoms may be due to cell death or wound healing initiated within irradiated tissue, and may be precipitated by exposure to further injury or trauma. Many factors contribute to risk and severity of normal tissue reactions; these factors are site specific and vary with time after treatment. Treatments that reduce the risk or severity of damage to normal tissue or that facilitate the healing of radiation injury are being developed. These could greatly improve the quality of life of patients treated for cancer.