To evaluate the risk factors for local relapse in vulvar cancer patients and its impact on survival as a function of its different patterns, which include local recurrences at the primary tumor site, recurrences remote from the primary tumor, and skin bridge recurrences. Between January 1978 and June 1999, 215 patients were treated for vulvar squamous cell carcinoma. The median follow-up was 38 months. To evaluate the role of local relapse in survival, a Cox regression multivariable analysis was performed using local relapse as a time-dependent covariate. The local relapse-free survival rate was 78.6% (+/- 7.1%) at 5 years. Multivariable analyses showed that the local relapse was increased by the factors margin status and depth of invasion. Pathologic nodal status, tumor size, margin status, and depth of invasion were predictors of cancer-related death in the Cox multivariable model with fixed covariates. The contribution of local relapse for disease-specific survival at the site of the primary tumor (relative risk [RR] 6.35; 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.07, 15.76) or skin bridge recurrence (RR 6.48; 95% CI 2.54, 16.49) was highly significant, whereas the contribution of local relapse at the other sites was not (RR 2.29; 95% CI 0.53, 9.91). In this model, margin status was not significant. The risk of cancer-related death after local relapse was 58.4% (+/- 18.3%) at 1 year and 70.9% (+/- 17.6%) at 3 years.Local relapses at the site of the primary tumor or skin bridge recurrences are strong predictors for cancer-related death, but not local relapse at a distant site.