The aim of the study was to compare the diagnostic performance of endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS), computed tomography (CT), and F-18-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) in staging of oesophageal cancer. PubMed was searched to identify English-language articles published before January 2006 and reporting on diagnostic performance of EUS, CT, and/or FDG-PET in oesophageal cancer patients. Articles were included if absolute numbers of true-positive, false-negative, false-positive, and true-negative test results were available or derivable for regional, celiac, and abdominal lymph node metastases and/or distant metastases. Sensitivities and specificities were pooled using a random effects model. Summary receiver operating characteristic analysis was performed to study potential effects of study and patient characteristics. Random effects pooled sensitivities of EUS, CT, and FDG-PET for regional lymph node metastases were 0.80 (95% confidence interval 0.75-0.84), 0.50 (0.41-0.60), and 0.57 (0.43-0.70), respectively, and specificities were 0.70 (0.65-0.75), 0.83 (0.77-0.89), and 0.85 (0.76-0.95), respectively. Diagnostic performance did not differ significantly across these tests. For detection of celiac lymph node metastases by EUS, sensitivity and specificity were 0.85 (0.72-0.99) and 0.96 (0.92-1.00), respectively. For abdominal lymph node metastases by CT, these values were 0.42 (0.29-0.54) and 0.93 (0.86-1.00), respectively. For distant metastases, sensitivity and specificity were 0.71 (0.62-0.79) and 0.93 (0.89-0.97) for FDG-PET and 0.52 (0.33-0.71) and 0.91 (0.86-0.96) for CT, respectively. Diagnostic performance of FDG-PET for distant metastases was significantly higher than that of CT, which was not significantly affected by study and patient characteristics. The results suggest that EUS, CT, and FDG-PET each play a distinctive role in the detection of metastases in oesophageal cancer patients. For the detection of regional lymph node metastases, EUS is most sensitive, whereas CT and FDG-PET are more specific tests. For the evaluation of distant metastases, FDG-PET has probably a higher sensitivity than CT. Its combined use could however be of clinical value, with FDG-PET detecting possible metastases and CT confirming or excluding their presence and precisely determining the location(s).