Ionizing radiation has long been recognized as a weak carcinogen, and the risk of developing a radiation induced neoplasm after exposure to therapeutic radiation has been established. In the case of therapeutic radiation for treatment of existing malignancies, concomitant risk factors for second malignancies can confound the effect of radiation alone. This study presents a model for evaluating the isolated contribution of ionizing radiation to the induction of second malignancies in cancer patients, and presents estimates of the expected number of second malignancies induced in selected sensitive sites by scatter radiation during radiotherapy for cancer. The study focused on the year 1987, during which it was estimated that 192,761 new cancer patients received radiotherapy as part of their initial treatment plan. The model predicted that radiation may induce 63-84 secondary breast cancers, 64-72 secondary thyroid cancers, 94-157 secondary lung cancers, and 489-707 secondary leukemias over the remaining lifetime of this patient population. This represents a lifetime incidence of 0.7% for leukemia, and 0.3% for the solid tumors. This incidence must be placed in perspective with the current concepts of cancer management, such as combined modality therapy that may carry a risk of carcinogenesis greater than either modality alone, and when the alternatives to radiotherapy may be nonexistent or may be cosmetically or functionally undesirable. The information presented may be used in weighing the risks and benefits of alternative treatments for cancer.