Data on the dose distribution in the penumbral region of megavoltage x rays are of importance for most radiotherapy planning systems. For medical linear accelerators the distance between the points representing 20% and 80% of the central axis dose (20/80) is typically only a few millimeters. To achieve good spatial resolution a radiation detector with small physical size has to be used for penumbra measurements. The penumbra in a 6-MV therapeutic x-ray beam was investigated for field sizes of 10 X10 cm2 and 20 x 20 cm2 at depth of maximum dose (dmax = 1.5 cm) and at 10-cm depth in a solid water phantom. In addition, the field edge of an independent jaw driven to the center of the axis of the primary collimator was investigated. LiF thermoluminescent (TL) ribbons and rods were used embedded in solid water in different geometries resulting in relative detector sizes of 1, 3,1, and 6 mm. A forming function based on an inverse square root function was used to fit the experimental penumbra measurements. For the asymmetric field an amendment to the function is proposed to give a better fit for the experimental data. From the penumbra measured with the three different detector sizes, a penumbra can be extrapolated for an infinitesimal small detector. The extrapolated penumbral width (20/80) was found to be 2.3, 3.2, and 2.7 mm at dmax for the 10X 10-cm2 symmetric, 10X 10-cm2 asymmetric, and 20×20-cm2field sizes, respectively. The 20/80 values at 10-cm depth in the solid water phantom for the same radiation fields were 4.2, 4.3, and 4.1 mm, respectively. © 1993, American Association of Physicists in Medicine. All rights reserved.