PURPOSE Most of the esophageal squamous cell carcinomas (ESCCs) and cancers of the head and neck (H&N) region are diagnosed at later stages. To achieve better survival, early detection is necessary. We compared the real-time diagnostic yield of superficial cancer in these regions between conventional white light imaging (WLI) and narrow band imaging (NBI) in high-risk patients. PATIENTS AND METHODS In a multicenter, prospective, randomized controlled trial, 320 patients with ESCC were randomly assigned to primary WLI followed by NBI (n = 162) or primary NBI followed by WLI (n = 158) in a back-to-back fashion. The primary aim was to compare the real-time detection rates of superficial cancer in the H&N region and the esophagus between WLI and NBI. The secondary aim was to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of these techniques. RESULTS NBI detected superficial cancer more frequently than did WLI in both the H&N region and the esophagus (100% v 8%, P < .001; 97% v 55%, P < .001, respectively). The sensitivity of NBI for diagnosis of superficial cancer was 100% and 97.2% in the H&N region and the esophagus, respectively. The accuracy of NBI for diagnosis of superficial cancer was 86.7% and 88.9% in these regions, respectively. The sensitivity and accuracy were significantly higher using NBI than WLI in both regions (P < .001 and P = .02 for the H&N region; P < .001 for both measures for the esophagus, respectively). CONCLUSION NBI could be the standard examination for the early detection of superficial cancer in the H&N region and the esophagus.