PURPOSE: To derive guidelines for the need to use positron emission tomography (PET) for delineation of the primary tumor (PT) according to its anatomical location in the lung. METHODS AND MATERIALS: In 22 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, thoracic X-ray computed tomography (CT) and PET were performed. Eleven radiation oncologists delineated the PT on the CT and on the CT-PET registered scans. The PTs were classified into two groups. In Group I patients, the PT was surrounded by lung or visceral pleura, without venous invasion, without extension to chest wall or the mediastinum over more than one quarter of its surface. In Group II patients, the PT invaded the hilar region, heart, great vessels, pericardium, mediastinum over more than one quarter of its surface and/or associated with atelectasis. A comparison of interobserver variability for each group was performed and expressed as a local standard deviation. RESULTS: The comparison of delineations showed a good reproducibility for Group I, with an average SD of 0.4 cm on CT and an average SD of 0.3 cm on CT-PET (p = 0.1628). There was also a significant improvement with CT-PET for Group II, with an average SD of 1.3 cm on CT and SD of 0.4 cm on CT-PET (p = 0.0003). The improvement was mainly located at the atelectasis/tumor interface. At the tumor/lung and tumor/hilum interfaces, the observer variation was similar with both modalities. CONCLUSIONS: Using PET for PT delineation is mandatory to decrease interobserver variability in the hilar region, heart, great vessels, pericardium, mediastinum, and/or the region associated with atelectasis; however it is not essential for delineation of PT surrounded by lung or visceral pleura, without venous invasion or extension to the chest wall.