We performed a meta-analysis to compare diagnostic performances of computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET or PET/CT), for detection of metastatic lymph nodes in patients with cervical cancer. We searched MEDLINE (PubMed), EMBASE and the Cochrane Review database in December 2007. All articles were independently reviewed and selected by three evaluators. We estimated a summary receiver operating characteristic (sROC) curve. The area under the curve (AUC), Q*, and pooled weighted estimates of sensitivity and specificity for each modality by patient-based and region- or node-based data analyses and conducted pair-wise comparisons between modalities using the two-sample Z-test. Forty-one of 768 initially identified studies were included in the meta-analysis. In a patient-based data analysis, PET or PET/CT showed the highest pooled sensitivity (82%) and specificity (95%), while CT showed 50% and 92%; and MRI, 56% and 91%, respectively. The AUC (0.9641) and Q* (0.9106) of PET or PET/CT were significantly higher than those of MRI (AUC = 0.8270; Q* = 0.7599), both P < 0.001. In region- or node-based data analysis, sensitivities of CT (52%) and PET or PET/CT (54%) were higher than that of MRI (38%), P < 0.02 and P < 0.001, respectively, while specificities of MRI (97%) and PET or PET/CT (97%) were higher than that of CT (92%), both P < 0.001. The AUC and Q* showed no significant difference among CT, MRI, and PET or PET/CT. PET or PET/CT had an overall higher diagnostic performance than did CT or MRI in detecting metastatic lymph nodes in patients with cervical cancer.