To examine the correlation of survivin (both total and nuclear survivin) with clinicopathological parameters of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) patients. Tumors and non-tumor tissues near the proximal resection margins were resected from ESCC patients undergone esophagectomy. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) was performed to detect survivin mRNA expression level in the 10 paired tumor and adjacent non-tumor tissues. To confirm with the clinical situation, survivin mRNA and protein expression were measured by qPCR and immunoblot, respectively, in 5 ESCC cell lines and a non-neoplastic esophageal epithelial cell line. Immunohistochemistry was employed to reveal the cellular localization of survivin in tumor tissues isolated from the 64 ESCC patients undergone surgery alone. Up-regulation of survivin mRNA and protein was found in 5 ESCC lines (HKESC-1, HKESC-2, HKESC-3, HKESC-4, and SLMT-1) when compared to a non-neoplastic esophageal epithelial cell line NE-1. In particular, HKESC-3, HKESC-4, and SLMT-1 cells demonstrated ~50-fold increase in survivin mRNA. High level of survivin mRNA in tumor tissues when compared to non-tumor tissues was found in 70 % (7 of 10) of clinical cases. The increase in expression ranged from ~twofold to ~16-fold. Immunohistochemistry results showed that survivin was found at the cell nuclei in all specimens examined. Nuclear expression of survivin was inversely associated with the likelihood of developing nodal metastasis (p = 0.021) and significantly associated with early-stage ESCC (p = 0.039). Nuclear survivin could serve as a marker for indicating disease status in ESCC patients.