The cyclin D1 gene, located on chromosome 11q13, is frequently rearranged in parathyroid neoplasms and amplified in some carcinomas of other organs. Recent studies have detected amplification of cyclin D1 and other markers on chromosome 11q13 (evaluated by Southern or slot blot assays) in approximately 25-50% of squamous cell carcinomas of the esophagus and noted that amplification was associated with lessened survival time. We applied the technique of differential polymerase chain reaction to the evaluation of cyclin D1 gene amplification in squamous cell carcinomas of the esophagus. Cyclin D1 was found to be amplified in 10 of 45 (22%) primary tumors and three of 12 (25%) lymph node metastases. Lymph node metastases tended to be more common in patients with cyclin D1 amplification (70%) than in those without amplification (37%). In 36 patients with follow-up, cyclin D1 amplification was associated with decreased 1 year survival (28% vs. 59%). Cyclin D1 gene amplification in esophageal carcinomas can be evaluated by differential polymerase chain reaction and may provide useful prognostic information.