Purpose In patients undergoing chemoradiation for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC), the extent of elective nodal irradiation (ENI) is still discussed controversially. This study aimed to analyze patterns of lymph node metastases and their correlation with the primary tumor using F-18-fludeoxyglucose positron emission tomography/computed tomography (FDG-PET/CT) scans. Methods 102 ESCC patients with pre-treatment FDG-PET/CT scans were evaluated retrospectively. After exclusion of patients with low FDG uptake and patients without FDG-PET-positive lymph node metastases (LNM), 76 patients were included in the final analysis. All LNM were assigned to 16 pre-defined anatomical regions and classified according to their position relative to the primary tumor (above, at the same height, or below the primary tumor). In addition, the longitudinal distance to the primary tumor was measured for all LNM above or below the primary tumor. The craniocaudal extent (i.e., length) of the primary tumor was measured using FDG-PET imaging (L-PET) and also based on all other available clinical and imaging data (endoscopy, computed tomography, biopsy results) except FDG-PET (L-CT/EUS). Results Significantly more LNM were identified with F-18-FDG-PET/CT (177 LNM) compared to CT alone (131 LNM, p & x202f;< 0.001). The most common sites of LNM were paraesophageal (63% of patients, 37% of LNM) and paratracheal (33% of patients, 20% of LNM), while less than 5% of patients had supraclavicular, subaortic, diaphragmatic, or hilar LNM. With regard to the primary tumor, 51% of LNM were at the same height, while 25% and 24% of lymph node metastases were above and below the primary tumor, respectively. For thirty-three LNM (19%), the distance to the primary tumor was larger than 4 & x202f;cm. No significant difference was seen between L-CT/EUS (median 6 & x202f;cm) and L-PET (median 6 & x202f;cm, p & x202f;= 0.846) Conclusion F-18-FDG-PET can help to identify subclinical lymph node metastases which are located outside of recommended radiation fields. PET-based involved-field irradiation might be the ideal compromise between small treatment volumes and decreasing the risk of undertreatment of subclinical metastatic lymph nodes and should be further evaluated.