Radiation Biology

There are several career opportunities in the field of radiation biology, ranging from radiation therapist and biology teacher to radiation researcher. Read more about job prospects, degree programs, employment outlook and salaries.

Is Radiation Biology for Me?

Career Summary

Radiation biology is the study of the effects, both positive and negative, of radiant energy forms on the human body, especially in regard to the treatment of cancer. Radiation is used in diagnosing disease through medical imaging, such as x-rays, as well as in treating disease with the use of radiation, such as external-beam radiotherapy. You can study radiation biology at the bachelor's through doctoral levels. Coursework covering radiation or cancer biology may also be found in cell biology, zoology, medical physics or radiation therapy programs.


With a radiation biology background, you may work in a hospital, research lab or oncology center. Education requirements vary based on the career you pursue. Possible careers include research, cancer-treatment drug development, radiation safety consulting, radiation therapy or high school biology teaching. With a doctorate, you can also seek university academic positions. You could become the instructor for the next generation of radiation biologists while focusing on research initiatives, like creating new chemotherapy treatments or detecting cancer at earlier stages.

Employment Outlook and Salary Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that in the 2012-2022 decade, employment of radiation therapists would grow by 24%. Employment of biophysicists and biochemists was expected to increase 19%, and postsecondary teachers should experience similar growth. In May 2013, radiation therapists earned a median yearly wage of $79,140. The median annual salaries were $84,320 for biophysicists and $75,740 for postsecondary biology teachers (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Radiation Biology?

Undergraduate Education

You might begin by majoring in radiation biology or radiation sciences. Since such programs are rare, a general biology or cell biology degree program with elective courses in this subject might give you the right start for graduate studies in this field. With a bachelor's degree in this discipline, you might find an entry-level research assistant or high school biology teaching career. This program can also serve as a springboard for professional programs, like medical school, where you might focus on radiation oncology, or it can be a basis for a graduate program in medical physics, a field that requires knowledge of radiation biology but that emphasizes patient treatment.

Additionally, though not common, extra career-specific radiation therapy clinical training may be offered through a radiation biology bachelor's program; if this is the route taken, you must become certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists before being eligible to work.

Graduate Programs

Master's degrees in this field are rare, so upon earning your undergraduate degree, you can apply directly to a Ph.D. in Radiation Biology program. Radiation absorption, tumor kinetics, chemotherapy agents and cellular signaling are topics you may study. Determining rates of cellular survival according to radiation dose level is another subject you might explore. Additionally, you may research genetic factors that affect radiation treatment, radiation's effects during pregnancy, total body changes resulting from radiation exposure or the chance of space professionals contracting cancer from galactic cosmic radiation. Laboratory work may cover radiation equipment, chromatins, proteins and microscopy. Research and college-level teaching may be in your future upon completion of this program.

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