The prognostic value of 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET) in the assessment of post-treatment residual masses in patients with Hodgkin's disease (HD) or non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHL) was evaluated. We prospectively studied 58 patients with HD (n = 43) or NHL (n = 15) who had post-therapeutic complete remission with residual masses (CRu) indicated by computerized tomography. Analysis of 62 residual locations by FDG-PET was performed separately for HD and NHL. Patients with a PET-positive residual mass [standardized uptake value (SUV) > 3] had a recurrence rate of 62·5% (5/8 patients), whereas patients with PET-negative residual mass (SUV ≤ 3·0) showed a recurrence rate of 4% (2/50 patients, P = 0·004). A positive FDG-PET study correlated with a significantly poorer progression-free survival (P < 0·00001). No recurrence occurred in any of the 39 HD patients with a negative PET scan (negative predictive value, 100%). Four out of four NHL patients with a positive PET study relapsed (positive predictive value, 100%). In conclusion, FDG-PET is a suitable non-invasive method with a high degree of accuracy in the prediction of early recurrence in lymphoma patients with CRu.