BACKGROUND: The cornerstone of the management of patients with endometrial cancer is hysterectomy. Since 1988, the role of lymphadenectomy for patients with endometrial cancer has been debated. Patients who undergo pelvic and para-aortic lymphadenectomy are more likely to be accurately staged and are less likely to receive adjuvant radiation therapy. METHODS: The authors perform a narrative review of the recent literature. Overall survival, utilization of radiation therapy, impact on quality of life, and alternative approaches to surgical staging are discussed. RESULTS: Although a survival benefit from comprehensive surgical staging has not been clearly demonstrated in patients diagnosed with endometrial cancer, surgical staging allows one to determine the need for adjuvant therapy. Preoperative and intraoperative assessment of lymph node metastasis and tumor grade lacks accuracy. Unstaged patients are more likely to receive postoperative radiation therapy. CONCLUSIONS: Comprehensive surgical staging with lymphadenectomy allows patients to be classified accurately into risk categories. Risk status can be definitively determined only with final pathology. Surgically staged patients are more likely to receive appropriate adjuvant therapy or observation when warranted.