The objective of this study is to analyse the short- and long-term results of surgery for malignant pulmonary nodules in patients with a history of oesophageal cancer (EC) in order to assess the significance of surgery in these patients. The data of 28 consecutive patients with a history of EC who underwent pulmonary resection for malignant pulmonary nodules were reviewed. The perioperative and long-term results were analysed. The histological type of oesophageal cancer was squamous cell carcinoma in all of the patients. The preceding treatments for EC were surgery with or without neoadjuvant therapy in 21, chemoradiotherapy in 4 and endoscopic resection in 3. The patients were smokers, with low body mass indices, and had high incidences of a history of malignancy besides EC and other comorbidities. Complete resection was achieved in 27 patients (96%). There was no perioperative mortality and 7 patients (25%) developed postoperative complications. Based on the pathological and clinical criteria, 14 patients (50%) were diagnosed with primary lung cancer, 10 patients (35%) with pulmonary metastases from EC and 4 patients (25%) with pulmonary metastasis from another cancer. The 5-year disease-free and overall survival rates of all patients were 48% and 60%, respectively. Surgery for malignant pulmonary nodules in patients with a history of EC can be performed with acceptable surgical risk despite the high rate of comorbid illness in these patients. Proactive surgical management should be considered for treating malignant pulmonary nodules in patients with a previous history of EC as this strategy provides favourable long-term results. © The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery. All rights reserved.