PURPOSE To compare postirradiation biochemical disease-free survival using the American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) Consensus or elevation of postirradiation prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level beyond 1 ng/mL as an endpoint and correlate chemical failure with subsequent appearance of clinically detected local recurrence or distant metastasis. METHODS AND MATERIALS Records of 466 patients with histologically confirmed adenocarcinoma of the prostate treated with irradiation alone between January 1987 and December 1995 were analyzed; 339 patients were treated with bilateral 120 degrees arc rotation and, starting in 1992, 117 with three-dimensional conformal irradiation. Doses were 68--77 Gy in 1.8 to 2 Gy daily fractions. Minimum follow-up is 4 years (mean, 5.5 years; maximum, 9.6 years). A chemical failure was recorded using the ASTRO Consensus or when postirradiation PSA level exceeded 1 ng/mL at any time. Clinical failures were determined by rectal examination, radiographic studies, and, when clinically indicated, biopsy. RESULTS Six-year chemical disease-free survival rates using the ASTRO Consensus according to pretreatment PSA level for T1 tumors were: < or = 4 ng/mL, 100%; 4.1--20 ng/mL, 80%; and > 20 ng/mL, 50%. For T2 tumors the rates were: < or = 4 ng/mL, 91%; 4.1--10 ng/mL, 81%; 10.1--20 ng/mL, 55%; 20.1--40 ng/mL, 63%; and > 40 ng/mL, 46%. When postirradiation PSA levels higher than 1 ng/mL were used, the corresponding 6-year chemical disease-free survival rates for T1 tumors were 92% for pretreatment PSA levels of < or = 4 ng/mL, 58--60% for levels of 4.1--20 ng/mL, and 30% for levels > 20 ng/mL. For T2 tumors, the 6-year chemical disease-free survival rates were 78% in patients with pretreatment PSA levels of 4--10 ng/mL, 45% for 10.1--40 ng/mL, and 25% for > 40 ng/mL. Of 167 patients with T1 tumors, 30 (18%) developed a chemical failure, 97% within 5 years from completion of radiation therapy; no patient has developed a local recurrence or distant metastasis. In patients with T2 tumors, overall 45 of 236 (19%) had chemical failure, 94% within 5 years of completion of radiation therapy; 4% have developed a local recurrence, and 10%, distant metastasis. In patients with T3 tumors, overall, 24 of 65 (37%) developed a chemical failure, 100% within 3.5 years from completion of radiation therapy; 4% of these patients developed a local recurrence within 2 years, and 12% developed distant metastasis within 4 years of completion of irradiation. The average time to clinical appearance of local recurrence or distant metastasis after a chemical failure was detected was 5 years and 3 years, respectively. CONCLUSION There was a close correlation between the postirradiation nadir PSA and subsequent development of a chemical failure. Except for patients with T1 tumors and pretreatment PSA of 4.1--20 ng/mL, there is good agreement in 6-year chemical disease-free survival using the ASTRO Consensus or PSA elevations above 1 ng/mL as an endpoint. Although the ASTRO Consensus tends to give a higher percentage of chemical disease-free survival in most groups, the differences with longer follow-up are not statistically significant (p > 0.05). It is important to follow these patients for at least 10 years to better assess the significance of and the relationship between chemical and clinical failures.