Summary Oesophageal carcinoma affects more than 450 000 people worldwide and the incidence is rapidly increasing. Squamous-cell carcinoma is the predominant form of oesophageal carcinoma worldwide, but a shift in epidemiology has been seen in Australia, the UK, the USA, and some western European countries (eg, Finland, France, and the Netherlands), where the incidence of adenocarcinoma now exceeds that of squamous-cell types. The overall 5-year survival of patients with oesophageal carcinoma ranges from 15% to 25%. Diagnoses made at earlier stages are associated with better outcomes than those made at later stages. In this Seminar we discuss the epidemiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis and staging, management, prevention, and advances in the treatment of oesophageal carcinoma.