OBJECTIVE To report outcomes of definitive radiotherapy for early-stage squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx. DESIGN Retrospective outcome analysis. SETTING Tertiary referral centre. PATIENTS AND METHODS A total of 373 cases of laryngeal cancer reported in Nova Scotia from 1990 through 2001 were reviewed. All cases were classified by T stage (T1 = 137, T2 = 90, T3 = 89, T4 = 57) and affected sites (glottic = 233, supraglottic = 136, subglottic = 4). We focused on those patients with T1 and T2 cancers of both the glottis and the supraglottis who received radiotherapy as a primary modality. RESULTS Eighty-eight percent (150 of 170) of T1/T2 glottic cancers were first treated with radiotherapy. Seventy-one percent (80 of 112) and 63.3% (24 of 38) of T1 and T2 glottic cancers, respectively, were controlled by radiation, with an average follow-up of 37 months. Of those T1 glottic cancers unsuccessfully treated by radiotherapy, 14 underwent surgical salvage, with 9 of these patients being free of disease following an average of 57 months. For T2 glottic cancers unsuccessfully treated by radiotherapy, five patients underwent surgical salvage, of whom four (68.4%) were free of disease after an average follow-up of 62 months. Seventy-five percent of T1 (3 of 4) and 70.6% (25 of 35) of T2 supraglottic cancers were successfully controlled by radiotherapy. Salvage surgery was attempted in five patients; however, all patients except one died of disease. CONCLUSION Although radiotherapy is a standard treatment for early laryngeal cancers, the results of this review may suggest considering other modalities in the treatment of early laryngeal cancer.