PURPOSE: Because predicting recurrence intervals and patterns would allow for appropriate therapeutic strategies, we evaluated the clinical and pathological characteristics of early and late recurrences of colorectal cancer. METHODS: Patients who developed recurrence after undergoing curative resection for colorectal cancer stage I-III between January 2000 and May 2006 were identified. Early recurrence was defined as recurrence within 2 years after primary surgery of colorectal cancer. Analyses were performed to compare the clinicopathological characteristics and overall survival rate between the early and late recurrence groups. RESULTS: One hundred fifty-eight patients experienced early recurrence and 64 had late recurrence. Multivariate analysis revealed that the postoperative elevation of carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA 19-9), venous invasion, and N stage correlated with the recurrence interval. The liver was the most common site of early recurrence (40.5%), whereas late recurrence was more common locally (28.1%), or in the lung (32.8%). The 5-year overall survival rates for early and late recurrence were significantly different (34.7% vs. 78.8%; P < 0.001). Survival rates after the surgical resection of recurrent lesions were not different between the two groups. CONCLUSION: Early recurrence within 2 years after surgery was associated with poor survival outcomes after colorectal cancer recurrence. An elevated postoperative CA 19-9 level, venous invasion, and advanced N stage were found to be significant risk factors for early recurrence of colorectal cancer.