The authors' experience with palliative dilation of 46 consecutive patients evaluated for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus was retrospectively reviewed. Thirty-nine of 46 patients (85%) underwent dilation in order to palliate symptoms, enable endoscopy and biopsy, or prepare for placement of an esophageal prosthesis. Thirty-two of the 46 patients (70%) were treated with radiation therapy and seven (15%) underwent placement of an esophageal prosthesis. Thirty-five of the 39 patients dilated (90%) noted improvement in swallowing, allowing resumption of a soft or regular diet. Complications were noted in three of the 39 patients dilated (8%). The authors conclude that peroral dilation is a safe, effective, and probably underutilized method of palliation in patients with squamous cell esophageal carcinoma.