The occurrence of acute or late normal tissue reactions after therapeutic radiotherapy and cellular responses in in vitro radiosensitivity assays do not correlate well suggesting that to date no one test system is suitable for predicting the risk or severity of such reactions. New insights into the underlying molecular mechanisms of this sensitivity are coming from studies that assess associations between common polymorphisms in DNA damage detection and repair genes and the development of adverse reactions to radiotherapy. The presence of such variants may alter protein function and an individual's capacity to repair damaged DNA modifying the response of the normal tissue. Polymorphisms in the XRCC1, ATM, hHR21 and TGFbeta1 genes have been shown to be associated with an increased risk of developing an adverse normal tissue reaction to radiotherapy, whilst one variant in the ATM gene has been reported to be radioprotective. Functional studies, taking into account either the haplotypes or the combined genotypes when multiple polymorphisms in a gene are present, will be necessary to establish the mechanistic basis of these associations. In the future association studies can only benefit from the analysis of multiple genes in large, well-characterized cohorts in particular to identify genetic factors that might specifically influence the temporal occurrence of these adverse reactions.