Background: Esophageal carcinoma has poor prognosis. Surgery is still considered to be the mainstay of treatment. The mortality rate within the first year after surgery is unknown, but identifying risk factors for early mortality would increase our ability to predict the outcome of these patients and might improve patient selection. Methods: All patients who had undergone subtotal esophagectomy for cancer between 2003 and 2008 were included in this retrospective series. Patients with less than 12 months follow-up, perioperative mortality, and death from unrelated causes were excluded. Patients were divided into two groups. Group A included all oncological mortality cases within 12 months of surgery. Group B included all patients who survived longer than 12 months following surgery. Results: Of 81 patients who met the inclusion criteria, group A included 18 patients and group B included 63 (median survival 10 and 25 months, respectively). A higher proportion of patients were operated for pN1 disease in group A (72% versus 33%, p = 0.0004). R0 esophagectomy rate was lower in group A (39% versus 76%, p = 0.03). Metastatic lymph node ratio (LNR) was higher in group A (mean: 46% versus 10%, p = 0.0003). Multivariate analysis identified LNR as an independent risk factor for first-year oncological mortality [odds ratio (OR) = 1.04, p = 0.0001; 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.02-1.06]. No differences were found in preoperative variables including age, gender, tumor histology, type of operation, and administration of or response to neoadjuvant therapy. Response to neoadjuvant therapy was associated with R0 resection. Conclusions: pN1 disease, resection margin involvement, and high LNR were found to be risk factors for first-year oncological mortality after esophagectomy for cancer.