Background: Multimodal treatment with neoadjuvant chemoradiation followed by surgery (nCRT + S) is the treatment of choice for patients with locally advanced or node-positive esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (E-SCC). Those who are unsuitable or who decline surgery can be treated with definitive chemoradiation (dCRT). This study compares the oncologic outcome of nCRT + S and dCRT in E-SCC patients.Methods: Between 2011 and 2017, 95 patients with E-SCC were scheduled for dCRT or nCRT+ S with IMRT at our department Patients undergoing dCRT received at least 50 Gy and those undergoing nCRT + S received at least 41.4 Gy. All patients received simultaneous chemotherapy with either carboplatin and paclitaxel or cisplatin and 5-fluoruracil. We retrospectively compared baseline characteristics and oncologic outcome including overall survival (OS), progression-free survival (PFS) and site of failure between both treatment groups.Results: Patients undergoing dCRT were less likely to have clinically suspected lymph node metastases (85% vs. 100%, p = 0.019) than patients undergoing nCRT + S and had more proximally located tumors (median distance from dental arch to cranial tumor border 20 cm vs. 26 cm, p < 0.001). After a median follow up of 25.6 months for surviving patients, no significant differences for OS and PFS were noticed comparing nCRT + S and dCRT. However, the rate of local tumor recurrence was significantly higher in patients treated with dCRT than in those treated with nCRT + S (38% vs. 10%, p = 0.002). Within a multivariate Cox regression model, age, tumor location, and tumor grading were the only independent parameters affecting OS and PFS. In addition to that, proximal tumor location was the only parameter independently associated with an increased risk for local treatment failure.Conclusion: In E-SCC patients treated with either dCRT or nCRT + 5, a higher rate of local tumor recurrence was seen in patients treated with dCRT than in patients treated with nCRT + S. There was at least a trend towards an improved OS and PFS in patients undergoing nCRT + S. However, this should be interpreted with caution, because proximal tumor location was the only parameter independently affecting the risk of local tumor recurrence.