Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) is a potent mitogen for epithelial cells that promotes cell motility and invasiveness. In this study, we report that the human esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) shows a significant elevation of HGF concentration (600 +/- 416 ng/100 mg protein), compared to normal mucosa (80 +/- 183 ng/100 mg protein) (P < 0.01). An association could be established between levels of HGF and decreasing differentiation of 37 SCCs. The 2-year crude survival rates were 51.1% and 68.4% at high and low HGF concentrations, respectively. The results indicate that HGF is significantly increased in human esophageal SCCs, especially of poorly differentiated type. HGF might thus be useful as a biological biomarker for characterization of human esophageal SCCs.