OBJECTIVE: Avoidance of injury to the thoracic duct during neurosurgical procedures involving the cervical region depends on a working knowledge of its location. This study evaluates superficial anatomic landmarks for the cervical portion of the thoracic duct that may be encountered in neurosurgery of the neck. METHODS: Fifteen dissections of human cadavers were performed to study the relationship between the proximal thoracic duct and superficial landmarks (e.g., the cricoid cartilage and sternal notch of the manubrium). RESULTS: The cervical portion of the thoracic duct was found to be approximated by a roughly 4.4-cm(2) region in the left supraclavicular area beginning approximately 2.0 cm lateral to the midline and 3.5 cm superior to the sternal notch, extending superiorly to a point roughly 3.5 cm from the midline and 2.5 cm inferior to the cricoid cartilage, and terminating within the venous system at a point approximately 4.5 cm lateral to the midline and 3.0 cm superior to the sternal notch. CONCLUSION: Through an increased appreciation for its location, injury to the thoracic duct may be minimized.