This paper reviews the radiobiological aspects of radioimmunotherapy (RIT) with radiolabeled antibodies, including comparisons between RIT and external beam irradiation. The effectiveness of cell killing by radiation decreases with the dose rate and the rate of decrease is determined by the size of the shoulder on the radiation survival curve. Tumors with poor repair capabilities exhibit less of a dose rate effect than tumors with good repair capabilities. Continued tumor cell proliferation during treatment occurs at very low dose rates and can contribute to the reduced effectiveness of low dose rate radiation. Toxicity to normal tissues will determine the total dose of radiolabeled antibody that can be given and this will be influenced by the choice of both the radionuclide and the antibody. The reported enhanced effectiveness of RIT may be due to multiple factors including selective targeting of cells responsible for tumor volume doubling, tumor surface binding rather than homogeneous binding throughout the tumor volume, targeting of the tumor vasculature, or block of cell cycle progression in G2. During RIT, there is less time for reoxygenation of hypoxic tumor cells than during a course of conventional external beam radiotherapy. It has not yet been determined whether this will have a detrimental effect on RIT. Probably the most important factor in the success of RIT is dose heterogeneity. Any viable portion of a tumor that is not targeted and does not receive a significant radiation dose will potentially lead to treatment failure, no matter how high the dose received by the remainder of the tumor. Comparisons between RIT and external beam radiation have shown a wide range of relative efficacy. Tumors most likely to respond to RIT are tumors with poor repair capabilities, tumors that are susceptible to blockage in radiosensitive phases of the cell cycle, tumors that reoxygenate rapidly, and tumors that express the relevant antigen homogeneously. From a radiobiological perspective, it appears that RIT alone is unlikely to cure many tumors and that combination with other treatment modalities will be essential.