When the regulation of B-cell differentiation and activation is disrupted, lymphomas and leukaemias can occur. The processes that normally create immunoglobulin diversity might be misdirected, resulting in oncogenic chromosomal translocations that block differentiation, prevent apoptosis and/or promote proliferation. Prolonged or unregulated antigenic stimulation might contribute further to the development and progression of some malignancies. Lymphoid malignancies often resemble normal stages of B-cell differentiation, as shown by molecular techniques such as gene-expression profiling. The similarities and differences between malignant and normal B cells indicate strategies for the treatment of these cancers.