Studies of the effects of ionizing radiation on tumors and normal tissues began within weeks of Roentgen's discovery of X rays, and are continuing today. The evolution of these studies reflects both the changing philosophy and sociology of science and the continuing application of new technologies and new knowledge from a diverse range of scientific fields to address the important problem of improving the treatment of cancer. This brief history reviews the evolution of "experimental radiotherapy" over the past century and describes how the development of new technologies and new experimental models influenced this field of study. In addition, it describes critical points at which studies in radiation biology and cancer biology had an impact on research throughout the biomedical sciences.

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