This dose escalation study was designed to determine the maximum tolerated dose (MTD) and recommended doses (RDs) of 5-fluorouracil (5FU), folinic acid and oxaliplatin (FOLFOX) with concomitant radiotherapy in inoperable/metastatic oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma. Patients received three courses of LV5FU2 regimen (folinic acid 200 mg m−2, bolus 5FU 300–400 mg/m2, continuous infusion 5FU 400–600 mg m−2 on days 1 and 2) and escalating doses of oxaliplatin 50 to 100 mg m−2 on day 1 (FOLFOX). This regimen was repeated every 2 weeks, concomitant to a 50-gray radiotherapy per 5 weeks. Three more cycles were delivered after completion of radiation therapy. Three to six patients were allocated to each of the five dose levels until MTD was reached. Thirty-three patients were enroled and 21 had metastatic disease. Maximum tolerated dose was oxaliplatin 100 mg m−2, and continuous infusion 5FU was 600 mg m−2 day− (level 5). The most common toxicities were neutropenia, dysphagia and oesophagitis. The RDs were those of FOLFOX-4 regimen (oxaliplatin 85 mg m−2 and full doses of LV5FU2). The overall response was 48.5%, including 12% complete response. Response rate on primary tumour was 62.9%. This FOLFOX-4 regimen was reasonably well tolerated and effective in inoperable/metastatic oesophageal carcinoma and warrants additional investigation.