Sentinel lymph node (SN) tumor burden is becoming increasingly important and is likely to be included in future N classifications in melanoma. Our aim was to investigate the prognostic significance of melanoma infiltration of various anatomically defined lymph node substructures. This retrospective cohort study included 1250 consecutive patients with SN biopsy. The pathology protocol required description of metastatic infiltration of each of the following lymph node substructures: intracapsular lymph vessels, subcapsular and transverse sinuses, cortex, paracortex, medulla, and capsule. Within the SN with the highest tumor burden, the SN invasion level (SNIL) was defined as follows: SNIL 1 = melanoma cells confined to intracapsular lymph vessels, subcapsular or transverse sinuses; SNIL 2 = melanoma infiltrating the cortex or paracortex; SNIL 3 = melanoma infiltrating the medulla or capsule. We classified 338 SN-positive patients according to the non-metric SNIL. Using Kaplan-Meier estimates and Cox models, recurrence-free survival (RFS), melanoma-specific survival (MSS) and nodal basin recurrence rates were analyzed. The median follow-up time was 75 months. The SNIL divided the SN-positive population into three groups with significantly different RFS, MSS, and nodal basin recurrence probabilities. The MSS of patients with SNIL 1 was virtually identical to that of SN-negative patients, whereas outgrowth of the metastasis from the parenchyma into the fibrous capsule or the medulla of the lymph node indicated a very poor prognosis. Thus, the SNIL may help to better assess the benefit-risk ratio of adjuvant therapies in patients with different SN metastasis patterns.