The correlation of staging criteria for mammary carcinoma with the curability of primary and recurrent local and regional lesions was assessed by follow-up after 1,259 consecutive radical mastectomies performed in women under age 70 between 1927 and 1978. Using a staging scheme revised in the light of our experience, the incidence of recurrence by 20 years was 34% +/- 2.7% for pathological stage I, 65% +/- 2.6% for stage II, and 83% +/- 2.5% for stage III. Recurrence after 20 years was observed in one of 178 patients. After treatment of local recurrence, three of 51 patients survived 20 years. By restriction of entry into clinical or pathological stages I and II, currently employed revisions of staging criteria appear to increase survival in all stages, while placing patients with possibly curable lesions in stages III and IV.