Phospholipase A(2)s (PLA(2)s) represent a family of esterases that hydrolyze the sn-2 ester bond in phospholipids, releasing free fatty acids and lysophospholipids. PLA(2)s are important in the signaling of several cellular processes and are known to play a significant role in inflammation. Studies also show that PLA(2)s are modulators of drug-, chemical-, and ischemia/reperfusion-induced cellular injury. The role of PLA(2)s in apoptosis and oncosis depends upon the PLA(2) isoform, the cell type, and the stimulus of injury. The purpose of this review is to discuss the functions of iPLA(2), cPLA(2) and sPLA(2) isoforms in oncosis and apoptosis, including oxidant-induced and receptor-mediated cell death. In addition, the measurement and modulation of PLA(2) is discussed.