The management of esophageal cancer with involvement of celiac lymph nodes is controversial. The purpose of this retrospective study was to evaluate the clinical importance of metastases to celiac lymph nodes in patients with carcinoma of the distal esophagus or gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) who undergo surgical treatment with curative intent. We reviewed the medical records of 310 patients who underwent definitive esophagectomy at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, between 1976 and 1999 for carcinoma of the distal esophagus or GEJ. The disease location was distal esophagus in 163 and GEJ in 147. Fifty-two patients (17%) were found to have celiac node involvement. The survival of these patients was compared with that of 97 N0 patients and 161 N1 patients without celiac node involvement. Squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinomas were found in 24% and 76%, respectively. Ivor Lewis esophagectomy was the most common surgical procedure (76%), followed by transhiatal resection (14%) and modified Ivor Lewis procedure (5%). The median number of nodes resected was 15 (range, 2-45). The median survival of the entire group was 18.8 months. The median survival was 48 months (range, 1.6 months-22 years) for N0 patients and 15.9 months (range, 0.03 months-14.4 years) for N1 patients without celiac node disease (P < 0.001). The median survival was 11.7 months (range, 2.2 months-15.7 years) for celiac node-positive patients, and this difference was statistically significant when compared with survival in N0 patients (P = 0.001) but not when compared with that in N1 patients without celiac node disease (P = 0.57). Survival at 3 and 5 years was 61% and 45% for N0 patients, 21% and 9% for N1 patients without celiac node disease, and 18% and 11% for patients with celiac node disease, respectively. At 10 years, 7% of patients with celiac node involvement in their resected specimen were alive. By multivariate analysis, patients with 4 or more positive lymph nodes had the worst prognosis (risk ratio [RR], 2.63; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.98-3.48), regardless of their location. We concluded that celiac node metastases were not an adverse prognostic indicator in patients with celiac node involvement compared with N1 patients without celiac node disease. Overall, the number of positive nodes, not their location, correlated best with survival. Although median survival was poor, a small number of patients with resected celiac node disease had long-term survival. Patients with undetected celiac node disease at the time of surgical resection who were subsequently found to have celiac node involvement appeared to have a prognosis similar to that of patients with stage III disease. Therefore, treatment with curative intent should be considered for fit patients with celiac node disease. © 2009 Copyright the Authors, Journal compilation © 2010, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the International Society for Diseases of the Esopha.