Survival Rates for Cancer of the Esophagus by Stage

Survival rates are often used by doctors as a standard way of discussing a person’s prognosis (outlook). Some people may want to know the survival statistics for people in similar situations, while others may not find the numbers helpful, or may even not want to know them. If you decide that you don’t want to know them, stop reading here and skip to the next section.

The 5-year survival rate refers to the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. Of course, many of these people live longer than 5 years.

Five-year relative survival rates, such as the numbers below, assume that some people will die of other causes and compare the observed survival with that expected for people without the cancer. This is a more accurate way to describe the chances of dying from a particular type and stage of cancer.

To get 5-year survival rates, doctors look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. Improvements in treatment since then may result in a better outlook for people now being diagnosed with esophagus cancer.

Survival rates are not readily available for each stage in the AJCC staging system for esophageal cancer. The survival rates below come from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database, and are based on patients who were diagnosed with esophageal cancer between 2003 and 2009. The SEER database doesn’t divide survival rates by AJCC TNM stage. Instead, it divides cancers into 3 larger, summary stages:

  • Localized means that the cancer is only growing in the esophagus. It includes AJCC stage I and some stage II tumors (such as those that are T1, T2, or T3, N0, M0). Stage 0 cancers are not included in these statistics.
  • Regional means that the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or tissues. This includes T4 tumors and cancers with lymph node spread (N1, N2, or N3).
  • Distant means that the cancer has spread to organs or lymph nodes away from the tumor, and includes all M1 (stage IV) cancers.


5-Year Relative Survival Rate







These survival rates for esophageal cancer do not separate squamous cell carcinomas from adenocarcinomas, although people with adenocarcinomas are generally thought to have a slightly better prognosis (outlook) overall.

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen with any particular person. Knowing the type and the stage of a person’s cancer is important in estimating their outlook. But many other factors are also important, such as the treatment received, how well the cancer responds to treatment, and a person’s overall health. Even when taking these other factors into account, survival rates are at best rough estimates. Your doctor can tell you how well these numbers may apply to you, as he or she knows your situation best.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 20, 2014 Last Revised: February 4, 2016

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.