In preclinical studies, the topoisomerase I inhibitor irinotecan (Camptosar, CPT-11) has demonstrated activity as a radiosensitizer, probably due to its ability to inhibit potentially lethal radiation damage repair. We conducted a phase I trial to determine the maximum-tolerated dose (MTD) and dose-limiting toxicities (DLT) of weekly irinotecan with concurrent thoracic radiation therapy for patients with unresectable stage III non-small-cell lung cancer. For this study, 13 patients received three dose escalations (from 30 to 40 to 50 mg/m2/wk). At the first dose level, one patient developed grade 5 esophagitis. Accrual was expanded to seven patients. None of the remaining six patients developed esophagitis. At the second dose level (40 mg/m2/wk), the worst toxicity, which developed in one patient, was grade 2 esophagitis. At the third dose level (50 mg/m2/wk), two of three patients developed grade 4 nausea and vomiting; grade 3 or 4 esophagitis also occurred in two patients. Of the 12 evaluable patients, seven achieved a partial response, for an overall response rate of 58%. In conclusion, nausea, vomiting, and esophagitis appear to be the principal DLTs of concurrent weekly irinotecan and thoracic radiation in the outpatient setting. The MTD of concurrent weekly irinotecan with thoracic radiation therapy appears to be 40 mg/m2 weekly for 6 weeks. To confirm the MTD of this combination, this study is still open to accrual at the second dose level (40 mg/m2) in combination with carboplatin.