The status of the sentinel lymph node (SLN) has been shown to accurately reflect the presence or absence of metastases in the axilla in patients with breast cancer. This study was designed to determine the optimal protocol for SLN processing. A total of 173 SLNs from 96 breast cancer patients who had successful SLN localization and underwent completion axillary node dissection were identified. All SLNs were negative for metastases by initial routine histologic evaluation. The nodes were submitted in a total of 300 blocks. Each block was serially sectioned to produce 10 levels. Pan-cytokeratin stain was performed on levels 3 and 8. All other levels were stained with hematoxylin and eosin. Metastases were identified in 22 SLNs from 19 patients by examining all 10 levels. The first two hematoxylin and eosin- or the first cytokeratin-stained levels were positive for metastases in 21 (95.5%) of the 22 positive SLNs. Two additional hematoxylin and eosin-stained and one cytokeratin-stained levels of each SLN correctly identified the status of the node in 94 (97.9%) of 96 patients. Therefore, we recommend that after an initial hematoxylin and eosin-stained section, two additional hematoxylin and eosin-stained sections and one cytokeratin-stained section should be evaluated.