BackgroundClinically, there are no clear guidelines on the extent of lymphadenectomy in patients with T1 esophageal cancer. Studying the minimum number of lymph nodes for resection may increase cancer-specific survival.MethodsPatients who underwent esophagectomy and lymphadenectomy at T1 stage were selected from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (United States, 1998–2014). Maximally selected rank and Cox proportional hazard models were used to examine three variables: the number of lymph nodes examined, the number of negative lymph nodes and the lymph node ratio.ResultsApproximately 18% had lymph node metastases, where the median values were 10, 10 and 0 for the number of lymph nodes examined, the number of negative lymph nodes and the lymph node ratio, respectively. All three examined variables were statistically associated with cancer-specific survival probability. Dividing patients into two groups shows a clear difference in cancer-specific survival compared to four or five groups for all three variables: there was a 29% decrease in the risk of death with the number of lymph nodes examined ≥14 vs < 14 (hazard ratio 0.71, 95% confidence interval: 0.57–0.89), a 35% decrease in the risk of death with the number of negative lymph nodes ≥13 vs < 13 (hazard ratio 0.65, 95% confidence interval: 0.52–0.81), and an increase of 1.21 times in the risk of death (hazard ratio 2.21, 95% confidence interval: 1.76–2.77) for the lymph node ratio > 0.05 vs ≤ 0.05.ConclusionsThe extent of lymph node dissection is associated with cancer-specific survival, and the minimum number of lymph nodes that need to be removed is 14. The number of negative lymph nodes and the lymph node ratio also have prognostic value after lymphadenectomy among T1 stage patients.