[english] Still today, the status of the cervical lymph nodes is the most important prognostic factor for head and neck cancer. So the individual treatment concept of the lymphatic drainage depends on the treatment of the primary tumor as well as on the presence or absence of suspect lymph nodes in the imaging diagnosis. Neck dissection may have either a therapeutic objective or a diagnostic one. The selective neck dissection is currently the method of choice for the treatment of patients with advanced head and neck cancers and clinical N0 neck. For oncologic reasons, this procedure is generally recommended with acceptable functional and aesthetic results, especially under the aspect of the mentioned staging procedure. In this review article, current aspects on pre- and posttherapeutic staging of the cervical lymph nodes are described and the indication and the necessary extent of neck dissection for head and neck cancer is discussed. Additionally the critical question is discussed if the lymph node metastasis bears an intrinsic risk of metastatic development and thus its removal in a most possible early stage plays an important role.