The study evaluates the effect of the locally recurring tumor on the incidence of metastatic disease in early stage carcinoma of the prostate. The probability of distant metastases was studied in 679 patients with Stage B-C/N0 carcinoma of the prostate treated at MSKCC between 1970 and 1985 (median follow-up of 97 months). Patients were staged with pelvic lymph node dissection and treated with retropubic 125I implantation. The actuarial distant metastases free survival (DMFS) for patients at risk at 15 years after initial therapy was 37%. Cox proportional hazard regression analysis of covariates affecting the metastatic outcome showed that local failure, used in the model as a time dependent variable, was the most significant covariate, although stage, grade, and implant volume were also found to be independent variables. The relative risk of metastatic spread subsequent to local failure was 4-fold increased compared to the risk without evidence of local relapse. The 15-year actuarial DMFS in 351 patients with local control was 77% compared to 24% in 328 patients who developed local relapses (p less than 0.00001). The relation of distant spread to the local outcome was observed regardless of stage, grade, or implant dose. Even stage B1/N0-Grade I patient with local control showed a 15-year actuarial DMFS of 82%, compared to 22% in patients with local relapse; p less than 0.00001). The median local relapse-free survival (LRFS) in the 268 patients with local recurrences who did not receive hormonal therapy before distant metastases were detected was 51 months, compared to a median of 71 months for DMFS in the same patients (p less than 0.001), consistent with the possibility that distant dissemination may develop secondary to local failure. Furthermore, distant metastases in patients with local control, apparently already existing as micrometastases before treatment, were detected earlier (median DMFS of 37 months) than in patients with local relapse (median DMFS of 54 months; p = 0.009). These data suggest that the existence and re-growth of local residual disease in localized prostatic carcinoma promotes an enhanced spread of metastatic disease, and that early and complete eradication of the primary tumor is required if a long term cure is to be achieved, although the clinical expression of secondary metastases may not become apparent for 6.5 years or more in one-half of the patients.