The status of axillary nodes is the most important prognostic factor in breast cancer to select patient subgroups for adjuvant chemotherapy; the current standard of care for surgical management of invasive breast cancer is complete removal of the tumor by either mastectomy or lumpectomy followed by axillary lymph node dissection (ALND). The recent introduction of intraoperative lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLND) represents a major new opportunity for appropriate and less invasive surgical management of many tumors. There is an almost uniformly enthusiasm concerning the potential of this technique in breast carcinoma management, shown by published data. A peculiar attention to the so-called "sentinel node debate" in breast cancer surgery is a constant in the last years issues of the major medical journals. Even patients have become more aware about medical enthusiasm and their request of concise information on the topic and the possibilities of this approach is an increasing reality in medical practice. The aim of this paper is to review recent literature to offer an overview about the main controversial methodological aspects and a wide analysis of reported results. The most significative international literature papers from Medline were retrieved from 1993 to September 1999, and 4782 procedures were analysed. This extensive review of the literature has confirmed accuracy, feasibility and reliability of the SN detecting technique in axillary mapping. Provided a good proficiency in SN localisation and pathological evaluation, human resources and efforts should be mainly focused on its clinical validation as an alternative to ALND instead of on further phase I-lI clinical studies.