Purpose The study investigated the feasibility of a positron-sensitive hand-held detector system for the intraoperative localisation of tumour deposits resulting from intravenous [18F]FDG administration. Methods A total of 17 patients (12 receiving preoperative [18F]FDG PET imaging) with various histologically proven malignancies were included. Radioactivity from tumours and surrounding normal tissue was measured on average 3 h after administration of 36–110 MBq [18F]FDG and the tumour-to-background (T/B) ratio was calculated. In addition, phantom studies were performed to evaluate the spatial resolution and sensitivity of the probe. Results All known targeted tumour sites were identified by the positron probe. T/B ratios were generally high, with a mean T/B ratio of 6.6, allowing easy identification of most tumour sites. In one case of a hepatic metastasis, the T/B ratio of 1.34 was below expectations, since the preoperative [18F]FDG PET scan was positive. The probe was instrumental in the localisation of three additional tumour lesions (two lymph nodes, one anastomotic ring) that were not immediately apparent at surgery. Phantom studies revealed that [18F]FDG-containing gel (simulating tumour tissue), having 10 times more [18F]FDG than surrounding “normal” background gel, was clearly detectable in quantities as low as 15 mg. As measured in two cases, the absorbed radiation doses ranged from 2.5 to 8.6 μSv/h for the surgical team to 0.8 μSv/h for the aesthetician. Conclusion [18F]FDG-accumulating tumour tissues can be localised with positron probes intraoperatively with a low radiation burden to the patient and medical personnel. The methodology holds promise for further clinical testing.