INTRODUCTION Locally recurrent rectal cancer is associated with poor quality of life and has justified aggressive surgical and adjuvant approaches to control the disease. This study was designed to evaluate the use of fractionated perioperative high-dose-rate brachytherapy in association with wide surgical excision (debulking). Our hypothesis is that this combined therapy can help control locally recurrent rectal cancer. METHODS Patients with biopsy-proven locally recurrent rectal cancer that could not be completely removed surgically were considered candidates for this procedure. All patients had abdominal exploration, aggressive tumor debulking, and placement of afterloading brachytherapy catheters. Patients underwent simulation on postoperative Day 3 and received 1,200 to 2,500 (mean, 1,888) cGy of fractionated high-dose-rate brachytherapy between postoperative Days 3 and 5. All patients had involvement of the lateral pelvic sidewall and/or the sacrum. RESULTS Twenty-seven patients (18 males) aged 32 to 79 years underwent therapy. Follow-up ranged from 18 to 93 (mean, 50) months and was available in 27 patients. Ten patients (37 percent) were alive at the time of this report. Nine patients are without evidence of disease. Five patients (18 percent) died of non-cancer-related causes without evidence of recurrent disease. Five complications potentially related to treatment (3 abscesses, 2 fistulas) occurred in five patients. CONCLUSION High-dose radiation brachytherapy delivers high-dose, highly controlled, focused radiation to specific sites of disease, thereby minimizing injury to normal tissues. The results in this series suggest increased local control, better palliation, and increased salvage of patients.