BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Approximately one third of all melanoma patients will experience disease recurrence. Factors that affect patient survival following local, regional, or distant first recurrences of localized melanoma are the subject of this investigation. METHODS: Survival times for a total of 1,085 first recurrences from 4,568 localized melanoma patients were examined in relationship to patient and disease factors by Cox regression. Nearly half (48.8%) of all first recurrences were regional, 21.8% were local, and 29.4% were distant recurrences. RESULTS: Survival following recurrence differed significantly by site of recurrence (local, regional, or distant; P < 0.0001). Within each site, the median survival time did not differ by time of recurrence following diagnosis. Significant tumor factors for survival following local recurrence included tumor thickness (P = 0.0263) and lesion location (P < 0.0001). For regional recurrences, survival was significantly related to ulceration (P = 0.0105) and whether the recurrence was combined with a local recurrence (P = 0.0429). Survival following distant metastasis was related to number of distant sites (P < 0.0001) and whether a visceral site was involved (P < 0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: Patient and tumor characteristics predict survival following recurrence. Regardless of disease-free interval, long-term follow-up of melanoma patients is necessary. Patients experiencing distant metastasis have the shortest median survival time compared to patients experiencing local or regional recurrences.