Abstract Background and purpose Patients with inoperable non-small cell lung cancer being treated with continuous hyperfractionated accelerated radiotherapy weekend less (CHARTWEL) were planned and treated with a three dimensional (3D) conformal protocol and comparison made with two dimensional (2D) planning, as used previously, to compare past practice and methods. Patients and methods Twenty-four patients were planned initially using 3D and then replanned using a 2D system. The 2D plans were transferred onto the 3D system and recalculated. Dose volume histograms could then be constructed of planning target volumes for phases 1 and 2 (PTV 1 and 2, respectively), lung and spinal cord for the 2D plans and compared with the 3D plans. Results There was a significantly lower absolute dose to the isocentre with 2D compared to 3D planning with dose reductions of 3.9% for phase 1, 4.4% for phase 2 and 4.7% for those treated with a single phase. Maximum dose to spinal cord was greater in 17 of the 24 2D plans with a median dose reduction of 0.82 Gy for 3D ( P=0.04). The percentage volume of whole lung receiving ≥20 Gy ( V 20) was greater in 16 of the 24 2D plans with a median reduction in V 20 of 2.4% for 3D ( P=0.03). Conclusions A lower dose to tumour was obtained using 2D planning due to the method of dose calculation and spinal cord and lung doses were significantly higher.