OBJECTIVES: Recurrent laryngeal nerve lymph node dissection (LND) has been incorporated into oesophagectomy for patients with oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma, but with uncertain oncological efficacy. METHODS: The data of patients with oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma, including who underwent upfront surgery (surgery group) and those who received neoadjuvant therapy followed by surgery (neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy group), were retrospectively examined. The overall survival (OS) and disease-free survival (DFS) were compared between patients with and without recurrent laryngeal nerve LND. RESULTS: Among the 312 patients, no significant differences were found in 3-year OS and DFS between patients with and without recurrent laryngeal nerve LND in the entire cohort (OS: 57% vs 52%, P = 0.33; DFS: 47% vs 41%, P = 0.186), or the surgery group (n = 173, OS: 69% vs 58%, P = 0.43; DFS: 52% vs. 48%, P = 0.30) and the neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy group (n = 139, OS: 44% vs 43%, P = 0.44; DFS: 39% vs 32%, P = 0.27). However, among patients with clinical positive recurrent laryngeal nerve lymph node involvement before treatment, there was significant OS and DFS differences between patients with and without recurrent laryngeal nerve LND (OS: 62% vs 33%, P = 0.029; DFS: 49% vs 26%, P = 0.031). CONCLUSIONS: Recurrent laryngeal nerve LND is not a significant prognostic factor in patients with oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma; however, it is associated with better outcomes in patients with pre-treatment radiological evidence of recurrent laryngeal nerve lymph node involvement.