There are two hypotheses to explain melanoma dissemination: first, simultaneous lymphatic and hematogeneous spread, with regional lymph nodes as indicators of metastatic disease; and second, orderly progression, with regional lymph nodes as governors of metastatic disease. The sentinel node (SN) has been defined as the first draining lymph node from a tumor and is harvested with the use of the triple technique and is processed by an extensive pathology protocol. The SN status is a strong prognostic factor for survival (83-94% for SN negative, 56-75% SN-positive patients). False-negative rates are considerable (9-21%). Preliminary results of the MSLT-1 trial did not demonstrate a survival benefit for the SN procedure, although a subgroup analysis indicates a possible benefit. A mathematical model has demonstrated 24% prognostic false positivity. SN tumor burden represents a heterogeneous patient population and is classified most frequently with the Starz, Dewar or Rotterdam Criteria. A completion lymph-node dissection might not be indicated in all SN-positive patients. Patients classified with metastases <0.1 mm by the Rotterdam Criteria have excellent survival rates. Ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration cytology is emerging as a staging tool for high-risk patients, but more research is necessary before this can change clinical practice.