The term radiation covers a wide spectrum of forms of energy, most of which have at one stage or another been suspected of causing human ill health. In general, study of the effects of radiation on health involves a mix of scientific disciplines, from population epidemiology to physics, which are seldom if ever found in a single scientist. As a result, interdisciplinary communication is of the utmost importance, and is a potent source of misunderstanding and misinformation. The forms of radiation which have been most specifically associated with health effects include ionizing and ultraviolet radiation. Claimed effects of electromagnetic and microwave radiation (excluding thermal effects) are too indefinite for detailed consideration. Ionizing radiation is a well-documented mutagen, which clearly causes cancers in humans, and human exposure has been increased by atomic weapons testing and medical and industrial uses of radioactivity. There is also a growing awareness of the possible role of some types of natural radiation, such as radon, in causing disease. Ultraviolet radiation is also associated with cancers, and is suspected of involvement in the increasing incidence of skin cancers in European populations. Factors thought to underlie recent changes in exposure to these mutagens are discussed.