Background: The purpose of this study was to determine the long-term outcomes of patients undergoing endocavitary contact radiation therapy (ECR) for stage I rectal cancer. Methods: A database of patients treated with ECR for biopsy-proven rectal adenocarcinoma from July 1986 to June 2006 was reviewed retrospectively. Only patients with primary, non-metastatic, ultrasonographically staged T1 N0 and T2 N0 cancer who had no adjuvant treatment were included. Patients received a median of 90 (range 60-190) Gy contact radiation, delivered transanally by a 50-kV X-ray tube in two to five fractions. Results: Of 149 patients, 77 (40 T1, 37 T2) met the inclusion criteria. Median age was 74 (range 38-104) years, and median follow-up 69 (range 10-219) months. ECR failed in 21 patients (27 per cent) (persistent disease, four; recurrence, 17), of whom ten remained disease free after salvage therapy. The estimated 5-year disease-free survival rate was 74 (95 per cent confidence interval 63 to 83) per cent after ECR alone, and 87 (76 to 93) per cent when survival after salvage therapy for recurrence was included. Conclusion: ECR is a minimally invasive treatment option for early-stage rectal cancer. However, similar to other local therapies, ECR has a worse oncological outcome than radical surgery.