Between 1971-1979, 330 consecutive isolated regional lymph node dissections (RLNDs) were performed as therapeutic procedures for metastatic disease, at the University of Louisville Affiliated Hospitals and the Ellis-Fischel State Cancer Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. This retrospective analysis includes 133 radical neck RLNDs, 87 axillary RLNDs, and 110 superficial groin RLNDs. All accessioned cases were elective and were performed as isolated procedures, discrete from resection of contiguous or remote organs. No patients received preoperative irradiation, chemotherapy or immunotherapy. Forty-eight per cent of the 330 RLND procedures resulted in some form of postoperative complication. However, 91% of the incurred morbidity was localized to the operative site and was related to serum collection and/or flap necrosis. The occurrence of postoperative complications for each RLND site resulted in a prolongation of the patients' hospital stays by a mean of 9 days, and was most extended for the superficial groin RLND by a mean of 11 days. Nine patients (3%) died. These data for morbidity and mortality rates, as well as the implicit economic impact, represent substantial factors in the utilization of elective RLND.