BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Accurate staging is essential in order to determine appropriate treatment in Hodgkin's disease (HD). (18)F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography ((18)F-FDG PET) offers the advantage of metabolic imaging that is largely independent of morphologic criteria. In the present study we evaluated the role of (18)F-FDG PET compared to routine procedures for the staging of patients with HD. DESIGN AND METHODS: Thirty-three patients with HD underwent standard staging procedures (clinical examination, laboratory screening, chest X-ray, computed tomography (CT) of the chest and abdomen and bilateral bone marrow biopsies) and a whole-body (18)F-FDG PET study. In clinical examination, an isolated lymph node > 1 cm or multiple lymph nodes > or = 1 cm in size were considered abnormal. Positive findings at both clinical examination or CT and (18)F-FDG PET were regarded as actual locations of disease. Negative findings with both methods were regarded as true negative (no involvement by HD). In cases of discrepancy, response to treatment and follow-up data were used to assess the overall accuracy of the patient's original evaluation. RESULTS: Completely concordant results in lymph node staging were observed in 20 patients. The two staging procedures indicated complementary information in 1 patient. Conventional staging indicated more pathologic lymph node areas in 6 patients (at least 1 false positive). (18)F-FDG PET showed more sites in 6 patients. The sensitivity of (18)F-FDG PET in detecting all known pathologic lymph nodes was 83% for peripheral lymph nodes, 91% for thoracic lymph nodes and 75% for abdominal and pelvic lymph nodes. Conventional staging procedures and (18)F-FDG PET indicated the same tumor stage in 26 patients. Based on (18)F-FDG PET, downstaging was suggested in 4 patients, including a biopsy-proven case. However in 1 of these cases this was incorrect. (18)F-FDG PET suggested upstaging in 3 patients. Based on conventional staging or (18)F-FDG PET the same treatment strategy was defined in 32 patients. In one patient (18)F-FDG PET downstaged disease extension (stage IIIA-->IIA) that would have suggested radiotherapy as a possible treatment option. INTERPRETATION AND CONCLUSIONS: (18)F-FDG PET provides an easy and efficient whole-body method for the evaluation of patients with HD. (18)F-FDG PET never missed tumor masses >1 cm. (18)F-FDG PET detected additional sites of disease not seen by conventional procedures and identified absence of disease in some sites suspected to be involved. However, in our patients this did not translate into changes in treatment strategy.