PURPOSE: To determine the extent and predictors for prostatic motion in a large number of patients evaluated with multiple CT scans during radiotherapy, and evaluate the implications of these data on the design of appropriate treatment margins for patients receiving high-dose three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Fifty patients underwent four serial computerized tomography (CT) scans, consisting of an initial planning scan and subsequent scans at the beginning, middle, and end of the treatment course. Each scan was performed with the patient in the prone treatment position within an immobilization device used during therapy. Contours of the prostate and seminal vesicles were drawn on the axial CT slices of each scan, and the scans were matched by alignment of the pelvic bones with a chamfer matching algorithm. Using the contour information, distributions of the displacement of the organ center of mass and organ border from the planning position were determined separately for the prostate and seminal vesicles in each of the three principle directions: anterior-posterior (AP), superior-inferior (SI) and left-right (LR). Each distribution was fitted to a normal (Gaussian) distribution to determine confidence limits in the center of mass and border displacements and thereby evaluate for the optimal margins needed to contain target motion. RESULTS: The most common directions of displacement of the prostate center of mass (COM) were in the AP and SI directions and were significantly larger than any LR movement. The mean prostate COM displacement (+/- 1 standard deviation, SD) for the entire population was -1.2 +/- 2.9 mm, -0.5 +/- 3.3 mm and -0.6 +/- 0.8 mm in the, AP and SI and LR directions respectively (negative values indicate posterior, inferior or left displacement). The mean (+/- 1 SD) seminal vesicle COM displacement for the entire population was - 1.4 +/- 4.9 mm, 1.3 +/- 5.5 mm and -0.8 +/- 3.1 mm in the AP and SI and LR directions, respectively. The data indicate a tendency for the population towards posterior displacements of the prostate from the planning position and both posterior and superior displacements of the seminal vesicles. AP movement of both the prostate and seminal vesicles were correlated with changes in rectal volume (P = 0.0014 and <0.0001, respectively) more than with changes in bladder volume (P = 0.030 for seminal vesicles and 0.19 for prostate). A logistic regression analysis identified the combination of rectal volume > 60 cm3 and bladder volumes > 40 cm3 as the only predictor of large ( > 3 mm) systematic deviations for the prostate and seminal vesicles (P = 0.05) defined for each patient as the difference between organ position in the planning scan and mean position as calculated from the three subsequent scans. CONCLUSIONS: Prostatic displacement during a course of radiotherapy is more pronounced among patients with initial planning scans with large rectal and bladder volumes. Such patients may require more generous margins around the CTV to assure its enclosure within the prescription dose region. Identification and correction of patients with large systematic errors will minimize the extent of the margin required and decrease the volume of normal tissue exposed to higher radiation doses.