PURPOSE: Current estimates of the proportion of cancer patients who will require radiotherapy (RT) are based almost entirely on expert opinion. The objective of this study was to calculate the proportion of incident cases of cervical cancer that should receive RT by application of an evidence-based approach. METHODS AND MATERIALS: A systematic review of the literature was done to identify indications for RT for cervical cancer and to ascertain the level of evidence that supported each indication. A survey of Canadian gynecologic oncologists and radiation oncologists who treat cervical cancer was done to determine the level of acceptance of each indication among doctors who practice in the field. An epidemiologic approach was then used to estimate the incidence of each indication for RT in a typical North American population of patients with cervical cancer. RESULTS: The systematic review of the literature identified 29 different indications for RT for cervical cancer. The majority of the 75 experts who responded to the mail survey stated that they "usually" or "always" recommended RT in all but one of the clinical situations that were identified as indications for RT on the basis of the systematic review. The analysis of epidemiologic data revealed that, in a typical North American population, 65.4% +/- 2.5% of cervical cancer cases will develop one or more indications for RT at some point in the course of the illness, 63.4% +/- 2.3% will develop indications for RT as part of their initial management, and 2.0% +/- 0.9% will develop indications for RT for progressive or recurrent disease. The effects of variations in case mix on the need for RT was examined by sensitivity analysis, which suggested that the maximum plausible range for the appropriate rate of utilization of RT was 54.3% to 67.9%. The proportion of cases that required RT was stage dependent: 10.6% +/- 1.2% in Stage IA, 74.9% +/- 1.3% in Stage IB, 100% in Stages II and III, and 97.2% +/- 1.1% in Stage IV. CONCLUSIONS: This evidence-based estimate of the appropriate rate of use of RT for cervical cancer adds to the growing pool of knowledge about the need for RT that will ultimately provide a rational basis for long-term planning for RT programs and for auditing access to RT in the general population.