© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Society for Medical Oncology. All rights reserved. Background: In this study, we use a competing risks analysis to assess factors predictive of early-salvage whole brain radiotherapy (WBRT) and early death after upfront stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) alone for brain metastases in an attempt to identify populations that benefit less from upfront SRS. Patients and methods: Patients from eight academic centers were treated with SRS for brain metastasis. Competing risks analysis was carried out for distant brain failure (DBF) versus death prior to DBF as well as for salvage SRS versus salvage WBRT versus death prior to salvage. Linear regression was used to determine predictors of the number of brain metastases at initial DBF (nDBF). Results: A total of 2657 patients were treated with upfront SRS alone. Multivariate analysis (MVA) identified an increased hazard of DBF associated with increasing number of brain metastases (P<0.001), lowest SRS dose received (P<0.001), and melanoma histology (P<0.001), while there was a decreased hazard of DBF associated with increasing age (P<0.001), KPS<70 (P<0.001), and progressive systemic disease (P=0.004). MVA for first salvage SRS versus WBRT versus death prior to salvage revealed an increased hazard of first salvage WBRT seen with increasing number of brain metastases (P<0.001) and a decreased hazard with widespread systemic disease (P=0.002) and increasing age (P<0.001). Variables associated with nDBF included age (P=0.02), systemic disease status (P=0.03), melanoma histology (P=0.05), and initial number of brain metastases (P<0.001). Conclusions: Patients with a higher initial number of brain metastases were more likely to experience DBF, have a higher nDBF, and receive early-salvage WBRT, while patients who were older, had lower KPS, or had more systemic disease were more likely to experience death prior to DBF or salvage WBRT.