Esophageal cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Although patients often present with apparently resectable disease, systemic spread frequently occurs before the development of symptoms and detection of tumor. The use of combined chemoradiation therapy, particularly before resection, appears to prolong survival and increase cure rates in certain histologic subtypes. Four randomized phase III trials compared preoperative chemoradiotherapy plus surgery with surgery alone. In trials including only patients with squamous histology, no improvement in survival was observed with preoperative chemoradiation therapy; however, in a trial including only patients with adenocarcinoma histology, improved median and overall survival were observed. Paclitaxel has been evaluated as a single agent in a phase II trial in previously untreated patients with locally advanced unresectable or metastatic esophageal cancer; the overall response rate was 32% and median survival was 13.2 months. Paclitaxel-based combinations also have been evaluated in esophageal cancer; particularly encouraging preliminary results have been achieved with paclitaxel/cisplatin/5-fluorouracil. Because paclitaxel is a potent radiosensitizer, it also has been evaluated in combination with radiation therapy for esophageal and other thoracic cancers, alone and in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents. Preliminary results suggest that neoadjuvant therapy with paclitaxel-based combinations (including 5-fluorouracil and cisplatin) and radiation is highly active, with variable toxicity. A goal of future trials is to assess paclitaxel-based combined modality therapy in combination with other new chemotherapeutic agents.