BackgroundWe performed a meta-analysis to compare the efficacy of definitive chemoradiotherapy (dCRT) and esophagectomy as initial treatments for potentially resectable esophageal cancer.MethodsTo assess both strategies, the combined odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. Thirteen studies (N = 2071; dCRT = 869 and surgery = 1202) were included. In all, 90.39% of the patients were diagnosed with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC).ResultsThe 2-year (OR = 1.199, 95% CI 0.922–1.560; P = 0.177) and 5-year overall survival (OS) rates (OR = 0.947, 95% CI 0.628–1.429; P = 0.796) were not significantly different. No significant differences were identified in the 2-year OS among patients with stage I disease (OR = 1.397, 95% CI 0.740–2.638; P = 0.303) or stage II–III (OR = 0.418, 95% CI 0.022–7.833; P = 0.560). Patients with lymph node metastases tended to have a better 5-year OS when treated with dCRT than with surgery (OR = 0.226, 95% CI 0.044–1.169; P = 0.076); however, the difference between the two methods was not significant. Western patients who received dCRT had poorer prognoses than patients who underwent surgery (OR = 1.522, 95% CI 1.035–2.238; P = 0.033). dCRT and surgery led to similar 5-year progression-free survival rates (OR = 1.06, 95% CI 0.79–1.42; P = 0.70).ConclusionsdCRT and surgery are equally effective as initial treatments for potentially resectable esophageal cancer. These results apply primarily to Asian populations as they have an increased incidence of ESCC.