In this study, we perform a scientific comparative analysis of using 60Co beams in intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). In particular, we evaluate the treatment plan quality obtained with (i) 6 MV, 18 MV and 60Co IMRT; (ii) different numbers of static multileaf collimator (MLC) delivered 60Co beams and (iii) a helical tomotherapy 60Co beam geometry. We employ a convex fluence map optimization (FMO) model, which allows for the comparison of plan quality between different beam energies and configurations for a given case. A total of 25 clinical patient cases that each contain volumetric CT studies, primary and secondary delineated targets, and contoured structures were studied: 5 head-and-neck (H&N), 5 prostate, 5 central nervous system (CNS), 5 breast and 5 lung cases. The DICOM plan data were anonymized and exported to the University of Florida optimized radiation therapy (UFORT) treatment planning system. The FMO problem was solved for each case for 5-71 equidistant beams as well as a helical geometry for H&N, prostate, CNS and lung cases, and for 3-7 equidistant beams in the upper hemisphere for breast cases, all with 6 MV, 18 MV and 60Co dose models. In all cases, 95% of the target volumes received at least the prescribed dose with clinical sparing criteria for critical organs being met for all structures that were not wholly or partially contained within the target volume. Improvements in critical organ sparing were found with an increasing number of equidistant 60Co beams, yet were marginal above 9 beams for H&N, prostate, CNS and lung. Breast cases produced similar plans for 3-7 beams. A helical 60Co beam geometry achieved similar plan quality as static plans with 11 equidistant 60Co beams. Furthermore, 18 MV plans were initially found not to provide the same target coverage as 6 MV and 60Co plans; however, adjusting the trade-offs in the optimization model allowed equivalent target coverage for 18 MV. For plans with comparable target coverage, critical structure sparing was best achieved with 6 MV beams followed closely by 60Co beams, with 18 MV beams requiring significantly increased dose to critical structures. In this paper, we report in detail on a representative set of results from these experiments. The results of the investigation demonstrate the potential for IMRT radiotherapy employing commercially available 60Co sources and a double-focused MLC. Increasing the number of equidistant beams beyond 9 was not observed to significantly improve target coverage or critical organ sparing and static plans were found to produce comparable plans to those obtained using a helical tomotherapy treatment delivery when optimized using the same well-tuned convex FMO model. While previous studies have shown that 18 MV plans are equivalent to 6 MV for prostate IMRT, we found that the 18 MV beams actually required more fluence to provide similar quality target coverage. © 2008 Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine.