PURPOSE To evaluate whether increasing numbers of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) fields enhance lung-tumor dose without additional predicted toxicity for difficult planning geometries. METHODS AND MATERIALS Data from 8 previous three dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT) patients with tumors located in various regions of each lung, but with planning target volumes (PTVs) overlapping part of the esophagus, were used as input. Four optimized-beamlet IMRT plans (1 plan that used the 3D-CRT beam arrangement and 3 plans with 3, 5, or 7 axial, but predominantly one-sided, fields) were compared. For IMRT, the equivalent uniform dose (EUD) in the whole PTV was optimized simultaneously with that in a reduced PTV exclusive of the esophagus. Normal-tissue complication probability-based costlets were used for the esophagus, heart, and lung. RESULTS Overall, IMRT plans (optimized by use of EUD to judiciously allow relaxed PTV dose homogeneity) result in better minimum PTV isodose surface coverage and better average EUD values than does conformal planning; dose generally increases with the number of fields. Even 7-field plans do not significantly alter normal-lung mean-dose values or lung volumes that receive more than 13, 20, or 30 Gy. CONCLUSION Optimized many-field IMRT plans can lead to escalated lung-tumor dose in the special case of esophagus overlapping PTV, without unacceptable alteration in the dose distribution to normal lung.