Aims and background: The high local failure rates observed after radiotherapy in stage I non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) may be improved by the use of 3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D CRT). Materials and methods: The case-records of 113 patients who were treated with curative 3D CRT between 1991 and 1999 were analysed. No elective nodal irradiation was performed, and doses of 60Gy or more, in once-daily fractions of between 2 and 3Gy, were prescribed. Results: The median actuarial survival of patients was 20 months, with 1-, 3- and 5-year survival of 71, 25 and 12%, respectively. Local disease progression was the cause of death in 30% of patients, and 22% patients died from distant metastases. Grade 2-3 acute radiation pneumonitis (SWOG) was observed in 6.2% of patients. The median actuarial local progression-free survival (LPFS) was 27 months, with 85 and 43% of patients free from local progression at 1 and 3 years, respectively. Endobronchial tumour extension significantly influenced LPFS, both on univariate (P=0.023) and multivariate analysis (P=0.023). The median actuarial cause-specific survival (CSS) was 19 months, and the respective 1- and 3-year rates were 72 and 30%. Multivariate analysis showed T2 classification (P=0.017) and the presence of endobronchial tumour extension (P=0.029) to be adverse prognostic factors for CSS. On multivariate analysis, T-stage significantly correlated with distant failure (P=0.005). Conclusions: Local failure rates remain substantial despite the use of 3D CRT for stage I NSCLC. Additional improvements in local control can come about with the use of radiation dose escalation and approaches to address the problem of tumour mobility.