The management of lymph nodes in melanoma patients who have no clinical evidence of nodal disease has changed dramatically with the development of selective lymph node biopsy. This procedure localizes the node in a regional basin most likely to contain a metastasis (the sentinel node) and averts the morbidity of unnecessary elective node dissection. This update reviews the rationale for this procedure and describes the methodology used by the surgeon and the pathologist. A progress report highlights the promise and limitation of this procedure. Sentinel node biopsy is currently the standard for staging select groups of melanoma patients, but the field is rapidly evolving and may eventually be surpassed by even newer molecular diagnostic techniques.
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