The incidence and mortality trends of oesophageal cancer are changing significantly across the world with considerable heterogeneity between sex, histological types, ethnic patterns and geographical distribution. Recent oesophageal cancer incidence and mortality trends have been analysed using data available from the WHO mortality database, the GLOBOCAN 2012 database and the Cancer Incidence in Five Continents database managed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Huge geographical variation is an epidemiological characteristic of oesophageal cancer, with the highest incidence rates observed in Eastern Asia and in Eastern and Southern Africa and the lowest rates observed in Western Africa. The variation is to the order of more than 21 times between the lowest-incidence and the highest-incidence countries. Although the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma is increasing globally, its incidence rates are decreasing in the USA and a few European countries. However, the decrease in the incidence of squamous cell carcinomas in these countries has been accompanied by a marked increase in adenocarcinoma incidence rates. There is a significant sex variation as well, with men being affected three to four times more commonly than women worldwide. The observed trends reflect significant global variations in the incidence and mortality of oesophageal cancers on the basis of sex, geographical distribution, ethnicity and histology. These epidemiological factors related to oesophageal cancers point out a possibly significant role of molecular epidemiological factors (genetic susceptibility and response to treatment) with major differences likely between the characteristics of Asian and Western populations.