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Esophageal cancer (EC) is a common cancer with high mortality because of its rapid progression and poor prognosis. Radiotherapy is one of the most effective treatments for EC. Three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT) and intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) are 2 recently developed radiotherapy techniques. IMRT is believed to be more effective than 3D-CRT in target coverage, dose homogeneity, and reducing toxicity to normal organs. However, these advantages have not been demonstrated in the treatment of EC. This meta-analysis was performed to compare IMRT and 3D-CRT in the treatment of EC in terms of dose–volume histograms and outcomes including survival and toxicity.A literature search was performed in PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane library databases from their inceptions to Dec 30, 2016. Two authors independently assessed the included studies and extracted data. The average percent irradiated volumes of adjacent noncancerous organs were calculated and compared between IMRT and 3D-CRT. The odds ratio of overall survival (OS), and radiation pneumonitis and radiation esophagitis was also evaluated.Totally 7 studies were included. Of them, 5 studies (80 patients) were included in the dosimetric comparison, 3 studies (871 patients) were included in the OS analysis, and 2 studies (205 patients) were included in the irradiation toxicity analysis. For lung in patients receiving doses ≥20 Gy and heart in patients receiving dose = 50 Gy, the average irradiated volumes of IMRT were less than those from 3D-CRT. IMRT resulted in a higher OS than 3D-CRT. However, no significant difference was observed in the incidence of radiation pneumonitis and radiation esophagitis between 2 radiotherapy techniques.Our data suggest that IMRT-delivered high radiation dose produces significantly less average percent volumes of irradiated lung and heart than 3D-CRT. IMRT is superior to 3D-CRT in the OS of EC while shows no benefit on radiation toxicity.