Background. Positron emission tomography with the glucose analogue 2- [18F]fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG) has been used to detect and stage a variety of malignancies. We hypothesized that FDG-positron emission tomography would improve staging of patients with esophageal cancer and thereby facilitate selection of candidates for resection. Methods. Fifty- eight patients (42 men and 16 women) with biopsy-proven esophageal cancer were evaluated with both FDG-positron emission tomography and computed tomography. Results. In all but 2 patients, increased FDG uptake was identified at the site of the primary tumor. Six patients were not operative candidates. Seventeen patients were not candidates for resection because of metastatic disease. Positron emission tomography identified the metastatic disease in all 17 (12 of whom underwent confirmatory biopsy), whereas computed tomography was positive for metastases in only 5. The remaining 35 patients underwent surgical exploration, were judged to have resectable disease and had esophagectomy. Pathologic examination of resected specimens identified lymph node metastases in 21 patients. These nodes were detected by positron emission tomography in 11 patients and by computed tomography in 6. Conclusions. Positron emission tomography improved staging and facilitated selection of patients for operation by detecting distant disease not identified by computed tomography alone.