The prognosis of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma is primarily determined by staging. Although radiological methods have revealed lymph node metastasis preoperatively, these radiological findings cannot be correlated with pathological staging. The aim of this study was to compare the expressions of p53, vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGF C) and p21 with lymph node metastasis in preoperative endoscopic biopsy and postoperative resection material. Tissue samples were taken from 40 patients who had undergone endoscopic biopsies and radical esophagectomies. The expressions of p53, VEGF C and p21 proteins in these sections were immunohistochemically examined. The expression of each antibody was characterized as a negative or positive reaction according to the pattern and intensity of semiquantitative immunostaining. The staining pattern of antibodies was divided into three groups: < 10% cancer cells were accepted to be (-), 10-50% were (+), heterogenous and > 50% were (+ +), homogenous. For each antibody, statistical correlation with conventional prognostic parameters such as localization, microscopic grade, stage, pathological lymph node metastasis and survival, were investigated. p53 expression was observed in 65.5% (19/29) of lymph node positive cases, whereas p53 was in 50% (20/40) of cases. VEGF C was in 65% (26/40) and p21 was in 15% (6/40) of cases. p53 has the specificity of 90.9% and sensitivity rate of 65.5% in detecting lymph node metastasis and positive predictive value was 95%. Expression of p53 was significantly correlated with stage and lymph node metastasis (P = 0.02 and P = 0.03, respectively). Prediction of lymph node metastasis by p53 was correlated independently and in coexpression with VEGF C (P < 0.01). There was no relation detected between p21 and other parameters. In esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), p53 and VEGF C expressions were correlated with pathologically positive lymph nodes. When preoperative staging has been insufficient in esophageal carcinoma cases, immunohistochemical analysis of p53 and VEGF C staining in tissues could be an aid to clinicians regarding lymph node metastasis. © 2007 The Authors Journal compilation © 2007 The International Society for Diseases of the Esophagus.