In patients who have a high likelihood of having lung cancer, there is little role for positron emission tomography (PET) imaging for diagnosis of the primary lesion. The primary impact of PET imaging is in extrathoracic staging, but it should not replace a clinical evaluation by a physician experienced in lung cancer. PET imaging is most useful for confirmation of the presumed extrathoracic stage in patients with intermediate stages of lung cancer. The role of PET imaging is limited in patients with strong clinical signs of metastatic disease, or in patients with a clinical stage I lung cancer and a negative clinical evaluation. With regard to intrathoracic staging, PET imaging has a definite role in communities in which mediastinoscopy is not available, whereas the impact is limited in institutions in which invasive mediastinal staging is available. The data suggest that a positive PET result in the mediastinum should be confirmed by biopsy. A mediastinoscopy is also reasonable in patients with clinical stage III lung cancer who have no mediastinal PET uptake. It is unclear and controversial whether a biopsy is needed in patients with clinical stage II lung cancer who have no PET uptake in the mediastinum.