Background: There is a lack of outcome data beyond local recurrence rates after primary treatment in rectal cancer, despite more information being necessary for clinical decision-making. We sought to determine patient selection, therapeutic modalities and outcomes of locally recurrent rectal cancer treated with curative intent. Methods:We searched MEDLINE (1990-2010) using the medical subject headings "rectal neoplasms" and "neoplasm recurrence, local." Selection of cohort studies was based on the primary intention of treatment and availability of at least 1 outcome variable. Results:We included 55 cohort studies comprising 3767 patients; 8 studies provided data on the rate of intentionally curative treatment from an unselected consecutive cohort of patients (481 of 1188 patients; 40%). Patients were symptomatic with pain in 50% (796 of 1607) of cases. Overall, 3088 of 3767 patients underwent resection. The R0 resection rate was 56% (1484 of 2637 patients). The rate of external beam radiotherapy was 100% in 9 studies, 0% in 5 studies, and ranged from 12% to 97% in 37 studies. Overall postoperative mortality was 2.2% (57 of 2515 patients). Five-year survival was at least 25%, with an upper limit of 41% in 11 of 18 studies including at least 50 resections. We found a significant increase in reported survival rates over time (r2 = 0.214, p = 0.007). Conclusion: More uniformity in treatment protocols and reporting on outcomes for locally recurrent rectal cancer is warranted. The observed improvement of reported survival rates in time is probably related to better patient selection and optimized multimodality treatment in specialized centres.