Patients with primary head and neck cancers have a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer. The aim of this study was to investigate esophageal cancer prevalence, its risk factors (ethanol and tobacco consumption) and dietary habits in patients with head and neck cancer. Three hundred and twenty-six adults with primary head and neck cancer were followed by a retrospective observational study in a general university hospital in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Flexible videoendoscopy with lugol chromoscopy was the method used to investigate esophageal cancer prevalence. All subjects were interviewed face-to-face, revealing detailed information about their tobacco and alcohol use, as well as their dietary habits. Thirty-six patients with esophageal cancer were diagnosed and the overall prevalence rate was 11.04%. Patients who developed second esophageal tumors had the following characteristics: earlier age of initial ethanol consumption (P < 0.05), longer duration period of ethanol consumption (P < 0.05) and higher weekly consumption rate (P < 0.05). There was an increased risk of esophageal carcinoma in those patients who both smoked and drank (P < 0.05). There was no association between carcinoma of the esophagus and dietary habits in patients who developed esophageal neoplasms, compared with those who did not. Prevalence rate of esophageal neoplasms was 11.04% in patients with head and neck carcinoma, whose ethanol consumption was associated with esophageal cancer. There was an increased risk between ethanol and tobacco consumption and esophageal carcinoma development. On the other hand, there was no association regarding dietary habits between patients who developed esophageal cancer and those who did not.