This meta-analysis was conducted aiming to evaluate the relationship between abnormal O-6-methylguanine-DNA methyltransferase (MGMT) promoter methylation and the risk of esophageal cancer (EC). A range of electronic databases was searched: Web of Science (1945 ~ 2013), the Cochrane Library Database (Issue 12, 2013), MEDLINE (1966 ~ 2013), EMBASE (1980 ~ 2013), CINAHL (1982 ~ 2013), and the Chinese Biomedical Database (CBM) (1982 ~ 2013) without language restrictions. Meta-analysis was performed with the use of the STATA 12.0 software. In the present meta-analysis, 9 clinical cohort studies with a total of 861 EC patients were included. The pooled results revealed that the frequency of MGMT promoter methylation in cancer tissues was significantly higher than in adjacent and normal tissues (cancer tissues vs adjacent tissues, odds ratio (OR) = 6.73, 95 % confidence intervals (95 % CI) 4.75 ~ 9.55, P < 0.001; cancer tissues vs normal tissues, OR = 13.68, 95 % CI 9.47 ~ 19.75, P < 0.001, respectively). Subgroup analyses by pathological type, ethnicity, and sample size suggested that abnormal MGMT promoter methylation also exhibited a higher frequency in all these subgroups (all P < 0.05). Our findings provide empirical evidence that abnormal MGMT promoter methylation may contribute to the risk of EC. Thus, detection of MGMT promoter methylation may be utilized as a valuable diagnostic marker for EC.