OBJECTIVE: To assess the patterns of care for low-risk localized prostate cancer. Management of this condition is highly controversial, with a range of treatment options, but there are no published UK data. METHODS Data from the British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS) Cancer Registry were linked to the UK Association of Cancer registries postcode directory. The demographic and clinical characteristics, and the initial management of men diagnosed with low-risk localized prostate cancer in the UK between 2000 and 2006 were analysed. RESULTS: In all, 43 322 cases of localized prostate cancer were recorded in the BAUS Registry between 2000 and 2006, of which 8861 (20%) met the criteria for low-risk disease. The proportion classified as low risk ranged from 16% in 2000 to 21% in 2006. The proportion of men with low-risk disease opting for 'watchful waiting' increased from 0% to 39% over the same period. Treatment choice was associated with socio-economic status. For example, radical prostatectomy was chosen by 34% of patients in the most affluent quintile, compared with 19% in the most deprived quintile (P = 0.01). CONCLUSION: The management of low-risk localized prostate cancer in the UK has changed markedly in recent years, and contrasts with that in the USA. The association observed between socio-economic status and choice of treatment deserves further study.