Helical tomotherapy is a treatment technique that is delivered from a fan beam that traces a helical path while the couch moves linearly into the bore. In order to increase the treatment delivery dose rate, helical tomotherapy systems do not have a flattening filter. As such, the dose distributions near the surface of the patient may be considerably different from other forms of intensity-modulated delivery. The purpose of this study was to measure the dose distributions near the surface for helical tomotherapy plans with a varying separation between the target volume and the surface of an anthropomorphic phantom. A hypothetical planning target volume (PTV) was defined on an anthropomorphic head phantom to simulate a per fraction IMRT parotid-sparing head and neck treatment of the upper neck nodes. A total of six target volumes were created with 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and of separation between the surface of the phantom and the outer edge of the PTV. Superficial doses were measured for each of the treatment deliveries using film placed in the head phantom and thermoluminescent dosimeters (TLDs) placed on the phantom's surface underneath an immobilization mask. In the test case where the PTV extends to the phantom surface, the mean TLD dose was (or of the prescribed dose). The measured superficial dose decreases to ( of the prescribed dose) for a PTV-surface separation of . The doses measured by the TLDs indicated that the tomotherapy treatment planning system overestimates superficial doses by . The radiographic film dose for the test case was , as compared to the calculated dose of . Given the results of the TLD and film measurements, the superficial calculated doses are overestimated between 3% and 13%. Without the use of bolus, tumor volumes that extend to the surface may be underdosed. As such, it is recommended that bolus be added for these clinical cases. For cases where the target volume is located below the surface, the tumor volume coverage can be achieved with surface doses ranging from 56% to 93% of the prescribed dose.