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After breast conservation for early breast cancer which comprised wide local excision, axillary clearance and radiotherapy to the breast, 145 women have been followed prospectively for a median of 42 months. Local recurrence occurred in 11 (7%) and axillary recurrence in three (2%). Distant recurrence has occurred in 32 and accounted for 80% of all first recurrences. Local treatment failure has occurred in three women and would not have been prevented by mastectomy. Loco-regional recurrence in the absence of preceding or synchronous distant disease was unusual and did not pose a significant clinical problem.