The computed tomographic (CT) findings in 52 patients with histologically proved esophageal carcinoma were reviewed. In 30 of these patients, the CT findings were correlated with findings at surgery or autopsy. CT was found to be highly accurate in predicting tumor size and assessing invasion of the tracheobronchial tree and spread to the liver, adrenals, and celiac and left gastric nodes. By quantifying the contact between the tumor and aorta, it was found that the CT appearance correctly predicted the presence or absence of aortic invasion in 24 of 25 cases (five cases were indeterminate). CT was insensitive in detecting metastatic spread to local periesophageal nodes; in these cases the tumor tended to involve the nodes without enlarging them. CT is an accurate method for assessing the spread of esophageal carcinoma. Its use can prevent unnecessary surgery in patients with inoperable tumors.