Oesophageal cancer is the fourth most common tumour in developing countries, comprising mainly squamous cell tumours, although the incidence of adenocarcinoma has increased enormously over the last decades. Surgical resection has long been acknowledged as the mainstay of treatment, and developments in surgical technique are reviewed. The roles of radiotherapy and chemotherapy in the management of oesophageal cancer remain unclear, especially as the majority of studies to date have been uncontrolled trials. We present an analysis of 601 patients who underwent resection for carcinoma of the oesophagus between 1970 and 1994 in the Department of Clinical Surgery, St James's Hospital, Dublin. The analysis shows clearly that, while peri-operative mortality continues to improve, conventional surgery offers little prospect of cure in the majority of cases. We have therefore embarked upon a prospective controlled trial of neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy followed by surgery versus surgery alone in patients with adenocarcinoma or squamous cell tumours of the oesophagus. Preliminary results indicate that multi-modality treatment may have a valuable role to play in the treatment of carcinoma of the oesophagus.