BACKGROUND: Death-associated protein kinase (DAPK) and adenomatous polyposis coli gene (APC) have been recently shown to be associated with outcome in patients with esophageal carcinoma, especially adenocarcinoma. We wanted to validate the correlation of these two markers with outcome by detecting methylated DNA sequences in peripheral blood. METHODS: Circulating cell-free DNA extracted from blood plasma of 59 patients with esophageal cancer was analyzed before and after surgical resection by quantitative real-time methylation-specific RT-PCR (TaqMan) assays. RESULTS: Thirty-six of 59 patients (61.0%) with esophageal cancer had detectable levels of methylated DAPK or APC promoter DNA and preoperative detection was significantly associated with an unfavorable prognosis as revealed by multivariate Cox proportional hazards regression analysis [Exp(b) = 4.578; P = 0.01]. The combination of both markers significantly increased sensitivity and specificity for discriminating between short (<2.5 years) and long survivors (P = 0.04, ROC curve analysis). Postoperative APC detection was significantly different if residual tumor was apparent (P = 0.03). CONCLUSIONS: Preoperative measurement of methylated DAPK and APC promoter DNA in peripheral blood may contribute to better estimate postoperative survival chances of patients with esophageal carcinoma, especially adenocarcinoma. The postoperative detection of methylated APC in peripheral blood might provide crucial information on apparent residual tumor and might be used as a "molecular" R0-Marker in addition to the pathologic examination.