This retrospective study investigates if delays between the diagnosis of cancer of the oesophagus and surgical resection influence long-term survival. Data held by the West Midlands Cancer Intelligence Unit on 800 patients who underwent oesophagectomy for a diagnosis of cancer of the oesophagus or oesophagogastric junction between 1995 and 2000 were reviewed. Six hundred and thirty-two patients treated with curative intention and who had not received neo-adjuvant treatment in the form of radio- or chemotherapy were included in the analysis. The time interval between histological diagnosis and surgical resection was stratified into four groups: less than 3, 3–6, 6–9 and more than 9 weeks. The Cox proportional hazard model was used to test for the independent effect of delays. The results showed no difference in long-term survival according to the delay between histological diagnosis and surgical resection. On multivariate analysis adverse prognostic factors were advanced age, incomplete resection and lymph node involvement. Patients with a longer delay had a higher rate of complete tumour resection suggesting that they were more appropriately selected for the surgical treatment approach. In conclusion we have found no evidence that shorter delays from the date of histological diagnosis to surgical resection are beneficial to long-term survival.