In a prospective study of 69 patients being treated for oesophageal carcinoma, quality of life was assessed with the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist, a dysphagia score and an activities of daily living questionnaire. Significant correlations were found between the results of the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist, the dysphagia score and most aspects of the activities of daily living questionnaire. Eighteen patients underwent surgery, 43 radiotherapy or intubation, and eight a combination of surgery and other therapy. Patients undergoing surgery were significantly younger and had better scores in all parameters examined before operation, including significantly better scores in 'knowledge and communication' and 'mobility and fatigue'. The dysphagia score fell significantly after intervention both in patients undergoing surgery alone and in those receiving palliative therapy. The activities of daily living questionnaire showed significant improvements in two parameters in the surgical group ('self-care' and 'eating and drinking') and in none of the parameters assessed in the palliation group in 16 weeks. Quality-of-life assessment is useful in assessing quality of care and patient well-being after the diagnosis and treatment of oesophageal carcinoma.