The poor prognosis for esophageal cancer could be improved if lesions were detected at an early stage. To detect early esophageal cancer, endoscopic screening of the esophagus with the Lugol dye method was performed in patients with head and neck cancers who were asymptomatic but regarded as being at high risk for synchronous or metachronous esophageal cancer. Of 178 patients screened, 9 had esophageal cancer (5.1%). Eight of these patients (89%) were at early stages with no lymph node metastasis. Most of the lesions (9 of 13 lesions) were not detectable by barium studies or ordinary endoscopic study. The epidemiologic statistical analysis of the patients confirmed that they had a significantly high observed and expected number (O/E) ratio (39.7; P less than 0.001). These results demonstrate the value of endoscopic screening of the esophagus with the Lugol dye method in patients with head and neck cancers and imply that endoscopic screening with the Lugol dye method may be useful for detecting early esophageal cancer in individuals at risk for other causes.