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Esophageal cancer can metastasize to the lymph nodes at a very early stage of the disease, and spread occurs both upwards and downwards. We have developed the ‘three-field lymphadenectomy’ (3-FD) technique, in which more than 100 lymph nodes are completely dissected from the lower neck, mediastinum, and upper abdomen. More than 700 patients have undergone 3-FD since 1984. Three-field lymphadenectomy is associated with considerable morbidity, although efforts have been made to reduce this by preserving tracheobronchial circulation and innervation. The mortality associated with 3-FD is acceptable (5-year survival rate of 53.8% for patients treated with curative surgery). We believe that 3-FD is a suitable standard operation for the treatment of thoracic esophageal cancer. Further trials are now under way with the aim of improving the results of the technique and also extending the applications of limited surgery and non-surgical therapy.