The advantage of 4-field radiation to the pelvis is the use of lateral ports which spare the small bowel anteriorly and a portion of the rectum posteriorly from radiation. However, guidelines for the lateral pelvic ports are poorly defined. This is a comparative analysis to determine adequate margins by correlating conventional lateral pelvic treatment portals with CT defined tumor volume. The study included 52 patients treated definitively for carcinoma of the uterine cervix between 1986 and 1991. The most common site of inadequate margin (< or = 1.0 cm) was at the rectal block. The incidence of inadequate margin ranged from 39% to 50% and was independent of the stage of the disease except non-bulky stage IB disease. The next most common site was at the posterior border where frequency of inadequate margin for cervical tumor depended on stage with 8% of stage IB, 27% of stage IIB and 22% of stage IIIB/IVA disease. For the anterior border, an enlarged uterus was the only reason for inadequate margin rather than cervical tumor in 8% of stage IB, 18% of stage IIB, and 27% of stage IIIB/IVA disease. Without knowledge of precise tumor volume, the 4-field pelvic technique is potentially dangerous, risking underdosing of the tumor volume. For 4-field pelvic radiotherapy, we strongly recommend CT treatment planning.