The cellular response to DNA damage is mediated through multiple pathways that regulate and coordinate DNA repair, cell cycle arrest and cell death. We show that the DNA damage response (DDR) induced by ionizing radiation (IR) is coordinated in breast cancer cells by selective mRNA translation mediated by high levels of translation initiation factor eIF4G1. Increased expression of eIF4G1, common in breast cancers, was found to selectively increase translation of mRNAs involved in cell survival and the DDR, preventing autophagy and apoptosis (Survivin, HIF1, XIAP), promoting cell cycle arrest (GADD45a, p53, ATRIP, Chk1) and DNA repair (53BP1, BRCA1/2, PARP, Rfc2-5, ATM, MRE-11, others). Reduced expression of eIF4G1, but not its homolog eIF4G2, greatly sensitizes cells to DNA damage by IR, induces cell death by both apoptosis and autophagy, and significantly delays resolution of DNA damage foci with little reduction of overall protein synthesis. While some mRNAs selectively translated by higher levels of eIF4G1 were found to use internal ribosome entry site (IRES)-mediated alternate translation, most do not. The latter group shows significantly reduced dependence on eIF4E for translation, facilitated by an enhanced requirement for eIF4G1. Increased expression of eIF4G1 therefore promotes specialized translation of survival, growth arrest and DDR mRNAs that are important in cell survival and DNA repair following genotoxic DNA damage.