Prognosis and survival for esophageal cancer

If you have esophageal cancer, you may have questions about your prognosis. A prognosis is the doctor's best estimate of how cancer will affect someone and how it will respond to treatment. Prognosis and survival depend on many factors. Only a doctor familiar with your medical history, the type, stage and other features of the cancer, the treatments chosen and the response to treatment can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.

A prognostic factor is an aspect of the cancer or a characteristic of the person (such as their age or overall health) that the doctor will consider when making a prognosis. A predictive factor influences how a cancer will respond to a certain treatment. Prognostic and predictive factors are often discussed together. They both play a part in deciding on a treatment plan and a prognosis.

The following are prognostic factors for esophageal cancer.


The most important prognostic factor for esophageal cancer is the stage of the tumour at the time it is diagnosed. Esophageal cancer found at an earlier stage has a better outcome than esophageal cancer found at a later stage.

Esophageal tumours that are found only in the mucosa lining the esophagus have a more favourable prognosis than tumours that have grown through the muscle wall or that have spread to other organs.

Tumour size

Small tumours have a more favourable prognosis than large tumours.

Cancer has spread to lymph nodes

The lower the number of lymph nodes that have cancer, the better the prognosis.

Cancer has spread to distant organs

Esophageal cancer that has spread to organs in other parts of the body has a less favourable prognosis.

Complete surgical removal of the cancer

The amount of cancer that remains after surgery is called residual disease. No residual disease has a better prognosis than if some cancer remains after surgery.

Cancer that responds to neoadjuvant therapy

Esophageal cancer that responds to neoadjuvant therapy is more likely to be completely removed by surgery. As a result, cancer that responds to neoadjuvant therapy has a better prognosis than cancer that doesn't respond to it.

Expert review and references

  • Stein HJ & von Rahden BH . Esophageal Cancer. Gospodarowicz, M. K., O'Sullivan, B., Sobin, L. H., et al. (Eds.). Prognostic Factors in Cancer. 3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2006: 12: 125-128.
  • Abbas G, Krasna M . Overview of esophageal cancer. Annals of Cardiothoracic Surgery. 2017.
  • National Cancer Institute . Esophageal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version . 2018 .
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Esophageal and Esophagogastric Junction Cancers (Version 2.2018).

Survival statistics for esophageal cancer

Learn about survival statistics for esophageal cancer, including relative survival, survival by stage and questions about survival.