Radiotherapy is used to treat approximately 50% of all cancer patients, with varying success. The dose of ionizing radiation that can be given to the tumour is determined by the sensitivity of the surrounding normal tissues. Strategies to improve radiotherapy therefore aim to increase the effect on the tumour or to decrease the effects on normal tissues. These aims must be achieved without sensitizing the normal tissues in the first approach and without protecting the tumour in the second approach. Two factors have made such approaches feasible: namely, an improved understanding of the molecular response of cells and tissues to ionizing radiation and a new appreciation of the exploitable genetic alterations in tumours. These have led to the development of treatments combining pharmacological interventions with ionizing radiation that more specifically target either tumour or normal tissue, leading to improvements in efficacy.