OBJECTIVE: To determine the efficacy and safety of vertical hemilaryngectomy (VHL) for the treatment of early glottic carcinoma recurrent after radiation therapy (RT). DESIGN: Retrospective study. SETTING: Major referral center. PATIENTS: Forty patients were identified who underwent VHL for T1 or T2 glottic carcinoma between July 1975 and March 1991, and all were included in this study. Twenty-two patients had received full-course RT before VHL, and 18 patients underwent primary VHL. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The local control rates were determined for T1 and T2 tumors in each group, along with actuarial survival rates and complications. RESULTS: Local control of tumor for VHL after RT failure was 85% for T1 tumors, 78% for T2 tumors, and 82% overall. Three of four of the local failures in this group occurred in patients who had contraindications to VHL. Total laryngectomy for treatment of local failures in this group increased the local control rate to 93% for T1 tumors, 89% for T2 tumors, and 91% overall. Local control rates for the primary VHL group were 90% for T1 tumors, 75% for T2 tumors, and 83% overall. Total laryngectomy for treatment of local recurrences increased local control to 87% for T2 tumors and 89% overall. Five-year actuarial survival was 85% for each group. Delayed tracheal decannulation occurred more frequently in the patients who had undergone RT. CONCLUSIONS: Our results support the oncologic safety and effectiveness of VHL for the surgical treatment of recurrent early glottic carcinomas after RT, with minimal increased morbidity.