Past, present, and future of radiotherapy for the benefit of patients

Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2013 Jan;10(1):52-60. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2012.203. Epub 2012 Nov 27.


Radiotherapy has been driven by constant technological advances since the discovery of X-rays in 1895. Radiotherapy aims to sculpt the optimal isodose on the tumour volume while sparing normal tissues. The benefits are threefold: patient cure, organ preservation and cost-efficiency. The efficacy and tolerance of radiotherapy were demonstrated by randomized trials in many different types of cancer (including breast, prostate and rectum) with a high level of scientific evidence. Such achievements, of major importance for the quality of life of patients, have been fostered during the past decade by linear accelerators with computer-assisted technology. More recently, these developments were augmented by proton and particle beam radiotherapy, usually combined with surgery and medical treatment in a multidisciplinary and personalized strategy against cancer. This article reviews the timeline of 100 years of radiotherapy with a focus on breakthroughs in the physics of radiotherapy and technology during the past two decades, and the associated clinical benefits.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Radiation Oncology*
  • Radiotherapy*