To determine the efficacy of endoscopic variceal ligation (EVL) in prophylaxis on the rate of first esophageal variceal bleeding, we conducted a prospective, randomized trial in 126 cirrhotic patients with no history of previous upper gastrointestinal bleeding and with esophageal varices endoscopically judged to be at high risk of hemorrhage. The end-points of the study were bleeding and death. Life-table curves showed that prophylactic EVL significantly diminished the rate of variceal hemorrhage (12/62 [19%] vs. 38/64 [60%]; P = .0001) and overall mortality (17/62 [28%] vs. 37/64 [58%]; P = .0011). The 2-year cumulative bleeding rate was 19% (12/ 62) in the EVL group and 60% (38/64) in the control group. The 2-year cumulative mortality rate was 28% (17/62) in the EVL group and 58% (37/64) in the control group. Comparison of Kaplan-Meier estimates of the time to death of both groups showed significantly lower mortality in the ligation group (P = .001). Patients undergoing EVL had few treatment failures and died mainly of hepatic failure. The lower risk in the EVL group was attributed to a rapid reduction of variceal size. Prophylactic EVL was more efficient in preventing first bleeding in patients with good condition (Child A) than in those with decompensated disease (Child B and C). We conclude that prophylactic EVL can decrease the incidence of first variceal bleeding and death over a period of 2 years in cirrhotic patients with high-risk esophageal varices.