Lymph node metastases in the neck are a major prognostic factor in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). Assessment and treatment of lymph nodes in the neck are of utmost importance. Inappropriate management of lymph node metastases can result in regional failure. Radical neck dissection has been and is still considered the "gold standard" for the surgical management of lymph node metastases of HNSCC. However, the philosophy of treatment of the neck has evolved during the last decades. Surgeons progressively realized that extensive neck dissections were associated with a higher morbidity but not always with a better oncologic outcome than more limited procedures. Today, a comprehensive therapeutic approach of the neck is multidisciplinary, taking into account the patient's quality of life without jeopardizing cure and survival. A better understanding of the patterns of lymph node metastasis promoted the use of selective neck dissection in selected patients. Sentinel lymph node biopsy is a reliable diagnostic procedure for staging the neck in node-negative early oral cavity squamous cell carcinoma. With increasing use of chemoradiation in locally advanced HNSCC, paradigms are evolving. Currently, there are strong arguments supporting the position that neck dissection is no longer justified in patients without clinically residual disease in the neck.