Genomic instability plays an important role in most human cancers. To characterize genomic instability in esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), we examined loss of heterozygosity (LOH), copy number (CN) loss, CN gain, and gene expression using the Affymetrix GeneChip Human Mapping 500K (n = 30 cases) and Human U133A (n = 17 cases) arrays in ESCC cases from a high-risk region of China. We found that genomic instability measures varied widely among cases and separated them into two groups: a high-frequency instability group (two-thirds of all cases with one or more instability category of > or =10%) and a low-frequency instability group (one-third of cases with instability of <10%). Genomic instability also varied widely across chromosomal arms, with the highest frequency of LOH on 9p (33% of informative single nucleotide polymorphisms), CN loss on 3p (33%), and CN gain on 3q (48%). Twenty-two LOH regions were identified: four on 9p, seven on 9q, four on 13q, two on 17p, and five on 17q. Three CN loss regions-3p12.3, 4p15.1, and 9p21.3-were detected. Twelve CN gain regions were found, including six on 3q, one on 7q, four on 8q, and one on 11q. One of the most gene-rich of these CN gain regions was 11q13.1-13.4, where 26 genes also had RNA expression data available. CN gain was significantly correlated with increased RNA expression in over 80% of these genes. Our findings show the potential utility of combining CN analysis and gene expression data to identify genes involved in esophageal carcinogenesis.