PURPOSE: To evaluate the impact of inadequate margins on pelvic control using the conventional four-field pelvic portals without computed tomography (CT)-treatment planning. METHODS AND MATERIALS: Between 1986 and 1991, 34 patients with invasive cancer of the cervix were eligible for outcome study of conventional four-field radiation therapy (10 Stage I, 16 Stage II, 8 Stage III). The eligibility for this study includes four-field pelvic technique, definitive radiation therapy, and diagnostic CT scan of the pelvis. For this study, an inadequate margin is arbitrarily defined as < or = 1.0 cm of normal tissue around the CT-defined tumor volume. RESULTS: All 34 patients had adequate margins for anterio-posterior/posterio-anterior portals. However, 19 patients had an inadequate margin at the posterior border (S2-S3 interspace) and/or custom-shaped rectal block for lateral pelvic portals. Two patients had inadequate margins at the anterior border (level of symphysis pubis) due to an enlarged uterus. With a median follow-up of 36 months, pelvic control for adequate margins and inadequate margins was 100% and 71% for Stage IB disease and 88% and 50% for Stage IIB disease, respectively. However, pelvic control for Stage IIIB disease was 50% for both groups. There was no difference in total dose to point A or point B between the two groups. CONCLUSION: Our preliminary data show higher local failure in patients with an inadequate margin. For four-field pelvic radiation therapy, we strongly recommend CT-treatment planning. Otherwise, anterio-posterior/posterio-anterior pelvic therapy is the most reliable treatment for cancer of the uterine cervix.