Controversies and inconsistencies regarding the pathological work-up of sentinel lymph nodes (SNs) led the European Working Group for Breast Screening Pathology (EWGBSP) to review published data and current evidence that can promote the formulation of European guidelines for the pathological work-up of SNs. After an evaluation of the accuracy of SN biopsy as a staging procedure, the yields of different sectioning methods and the immunohistochemical detection of metastatic cells are reviewed. Currently published data do not allow the significance of micrometastases or isolated tumour cells to be established, but it is suggested that approximately 18% of the cases may be associated with further nodal (non-SN) metastases, i.e. approximately 2% of all patients initially staged by SN biopsy. The methods for the intraoperative and molecular assessment of SNs are also surveyed.