Abstract The aim of our study was a direct comparison of the ability of positron-emission tomograpy with FDG-PET and of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine whether breast lesions were benign or malignant and of the two imaging methods capability of depicting eventual multifocal disease. We performed both PET and MRI in 36 patients (40 lesions) who were scheduled for surgery because of suggestive mammographic, sonographic and/or clinical findings. A final histological classification was available for all lesions. Tumour size ranged from 5 to 45 mm (mean 16.7 mm). Sensitivity for lesions, sensitivity for patients, specificity for lesions and specificity for patients were 68.0%, 76.2%, 73.3%, and 73.3% for PET and 92.0%, 95.2%, 73.3%, and 73.3% for MRI, respectively. MRI was more sensitive than FDG-PET in disclosing malignant breast tumours and was also more accurate than FDG-PET in the assessment of multifocal disease. The lower sensitivity of FDG-PET than of MRI seems to be due to difficulties in reliable imaging of carcinomas smaller than 10 mm and of lobular carcinomas.