A retrospective study of surgically resectable esophageal cancers was undertaken to determine the relationship between angiogenesis score and growth factor expression with tumor size, histology, degree of differentiation, depth of invasion, nodal disease, and the presence of Barrett's esophagus. The office and hospital charts of 27 patients who had esophageal resection for carcinoma between 1990 and 1995 at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center were reviewed. Data collection included patient demographics, survival, tumor size, histology, differentiation, depth of invasion, nodal metastases, and the presence of Barrett's esophagus. The pathology specimens were immunostained for von Willebrand factor (factor VIII-related antigen). Immunostaining was also performed for vascular endothelial growth factor and transforming growth factor alpha. Twenty normal esophageal specimens served as controls. Angiogenesis score was determined by counting vessels under conventional light microscopy at x200 magnification, and growth factor expression was graded on a scale of 1 to 4. Cancers had higher angiogenesis and growth factor expression than controls (P = 0.01). Patient age, tumor size, histology, differentiation, depth of invasion, and Barrett's esophagus did not correlate with angiogenesis score or tumor growth factor expression. Lymph node status did correlate with both angiogenesis score and growth factor expression (P < or = 0.02). We conclude that high angiogenesis score and growth factor expression correlate with the presence of lymph node metastases. This may help select patients for preoperative radiation and chemotherapy or determine the extent of surgery performed for esophageal carcinoma.