Non-targeted effects (NTE) such as bystander effects or genomic instability have been known for many years but their significance for radiotherapy or medical diagnostic radiology are far from clear. Central to the issue are reported differences in the response of normal and tumour tissues to signals from directly irradiated cells. This review will discuss possible mechanisms and implications of these different responses and will then discuss possible new therapeutic avenues suggested by the analysis. Finally, the importance of NTE for diagnostic radiology and nuclear medicine which stems from the dominance of NTE in the low-dose region of the dose–response curve will be presented. Areas such as second cancer induction and microenvironment plasticity will be discussed.