The thermal-wave field in a photopyroelectric thermal-wave cavity was calculated with two theoretical approaches: a computationally straightforward, conventional, one-dimensional approach and a three-dimensional experimentally more realistic approach. The calculations show that the dimensionality of the thermal-wave field in the cavity depends on the lateral heat transfer boundary conditions and the relation between the beam size of the laser impinging on the thermal-wave generating metallic film and the diameter of the film itself. The theoretical calculations and the experimental data on the photopyroelectric signal in the cavity were compared. The study resulted in identifying ranges of heat transfer rates, beam sizes, and cavity radii for which accurate quantitative measurements of the thermal diffusivity of intracavity fluids can be made within the far simpler, but only approximate, one-dimensional approach conventionally adopted by users of thermal-wave cavities. It was shown that the major parameters affecting the dimensionality of thermal-wave cavities are the laser beam spot size and the Biot number of the medium comprising the sidewalls of the (cylindrical) cavity.