Concern for risk of radiation-induced cancer is growing with the increasing number of cancer patients surviving long term. This study examined data on radiation transformation of mammalian cells in vitro and on the risk of an increased cancer incidence after irradiation of mice, dogs, monkeys, atomic bomb survivors, occupationally exposed persons, and patients treated with radiation. Transformation of cells lines in vitro increased linearly with dose from approximately 1 to approximately 4-5 Gy. At <0.1 Gy, transformation was not increased in all studies. Dose-response relationships for cancer incidence varied with mouse strain, gender and tissue/organ. Risk of cancer in Macaca mulatta was not raised at 0.25-2.8 Gy. From the atomic bomb survivor study, risk is accepted as increasing linearly to 2 Sv for establishing exposure standards. In irradiated patients, risk of cancer increased significantly from 1 to 45 Gy (a low to a high dose level) for stomach and pancreas, but not for bladder and rectum (1-60 Gy) or kidney (1-15 Gy). Risk for several organs/tissues increased substantially at doses far above 2 Gy. There is great heterogeneity in risk of radiation-associated cancer between species, strains of a species, and organs within a species. At present, the heterogeneity between and within patient populations of virtually every parameter considered in risk estimation results in substantial uncertainty in quantification of a general risk factor. An implication of this review is that reduced risks of secondary cancer should be achieved by any technique that achieved a dose reduction down to approximately [corrected] 0.1 Gy, i.e. dose to tissues distant from the target. The proportionate gain should be greatest for dose decrement to less than 2 Gy.