The authors investigated the impact of local intraocular tumor relapse on survival in a matched-group comparison study of patients with primary choroidal or ciliary body melanoma managed with cobalt 60 plaque radiotherapy. Sixty-two patients with local relapse were matched with an equal number of relapse-free patients in terms of known clinical prognostic factors for both melanoma-specific mortality (largest linear tumor dimension, location of anterior tumor margin, age) and local tumor relapse (location of posterior tumor margin). The follow-up of every relapse-free patient equaled or exceeded the interval to relapse for each matched patient with local relapse. The estimated 5-year survival (Kaplan-Meier) in the relapse-free patients was 87% (standard error = 4%), while that in the local relapse group was 58% (standard error = 6%). This difference is statistically significant (P less than 0.0001, log rank test). These results support the hypothesis that local tumor relapse after cobalt 60 plaque radiotherapy is an important post-treatment clinical indicator of the tumor's greater malignant potential and the patient's increased risk of melanoma-specific mortality.