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Recent studies have shown that metabolic tumor volume (MTV) by positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) is an important prognostic parameter in patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, it is unknown whether doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine, dacarbazine (ABVD) alone in early stage Hodgkin's lymphoma would lead to similar disease control as combined modality therapy (CMT) using MTV by PET/CT. One hundred and twenty-seven patients with early stage Hodgkin's lymphoma who underwent PET/CT at diagnosis were enrolled. The MTV was delineated on PET/CT by the area ≥SUVmax, 2.5 (standardized uptake value [SUV]). Sixty-six patients received six cycles of ABVD only. The other 61 patients received CMT (involved-field radiotherapy after 4–6 cycles of ABVD). The calculated MTV cut-off value was 198 cm3. Clinical outcomes were compared according to several prognostic factors (i.e. age ≥50 years, male, performance status ≥2, stage II, B symptoms, ≥4 involved sites, extranodal site, large mediastinal mass, CMT, elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate and high MTV). Older age (progression-free survival [PFS], P = 0.003; overall survival [OS], P = 0.007), B symptoms (PFS, P = 0.006; OS, P = 0.036) and high MTV (PFS, P = 0.008; OS, P = 0.007) were significant independent prognostic factors. Survival of two high MTV groups treated with ABVD only and CMT were lower than the low MTV groups (PFS, P < 0.012; OS, P < 0.045). ABVD alone was sufficient to control disease in those with low MTV status. However, survival was poor, even if the CMT was assigned a high MTV status. The MTV would be helpful for deciding the therapeutic modality in patients with early stage Hodgkin's lymphoma.