Background and purpose: Interstitial implants for brachytherapy boost in the breast conserving therapy of breast cancer can be performed in two ways; implants during the tumor excision (per-operative implants) or after the external beam therapy (delayed interstitial implants). Differences in cosmetic outcome were investigated. Patients and methods: Cosmetic results in 47 patients having a per-operative implant were compared to 123 patients having a delayed interstitial implant in a matched case-control study. Cosmesis was scored on a four-point-scale varying from 0 (excellent) to 3 (poor). Results: After mean follow-up of 63 months, three observers found no difference in cosmetic outcome between the two groups after adjustment for variables found to be related with cosmesis (difference in mean score 0.50, P=0.26). Implant volume at 100% isodose was not found to differ (P=0.084) between the per-operative group (mean 102 cm3, S.D. 34 cm3) and the delayed group (mean 93 cm3, S.D. 29 cm3). Conclusions: Performing per-operative implants has not led to smaller implants. The method of performing brachytherapy does not result in marked differences in cosmetic outcome. © 2003 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.