BACKGROUND Long-term survival in patients with esophageal cancer remains dismal despite the recent improvements in surgery, the advances in radiotherapy (RT) technology, and the refinement of systemic treatments, including the advent of targeted therapies. Although surgery constitutes the treatment of choice for early-stage disease (stage I), a multimodal approach, including preoperative or definitive chemoradiotherapy (CRT) and perioperative chemotherapy, is commonly pursued in patients with locally advanced disease. METHODS A review of the literature was performed to assess the role of RT, alone or in combination with chemotherapy, in the management of esophageal cancer. RESULTS Evidence from large, randomized phase III trials and meta-analyses supports the application of perioperative chemotherapy alone or preoperative concurrent CRT in patients with lower esophageal and esophagogastric junction adenocarcinomas. Preoperative CRT but not preoperative chemotherapy alone is now routinely used in patients with locally advanced squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Additionally, definitive CRT without surgery has also emerged as a valuable approach in the management of resectable esophageal SCC to avoid surgery-related morbidity and mortality, whereas salvage surgery is reserved for those with persistent disease. Furthermore, brachytherapy offers a valuable option in the palliative treatment of patients with locally advanced, unresponsive disease. Fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) can facilitate a more accurate treatment response assessment and patient selection. Finally, the development of modern RT techniques, such as intensity-modulated and image-guided RT as well as FDG-PET-based RT planning, could further increase the therapeutic ratio of CRT. CONCLUSION Altogether, CRT constitutes an important tool in the treatment armamentarium for esophageal cancer. Further optimization of CRT using modern technology and imaging, targeted therapies, and newer chemotherapeutic agents is a major challenge and should be the goal of future research and clinical trials.