In recent years many subtypes of CLL and some CML variants have been recognized throughout the world by means of careful clinical, epidemiological, immunological, molecular biological and viral studies. Most striking has been the establishment of a close association between certain immunophenotypical subtypes of CLL and infection with HTLV-I and possibly HTLV-II. CLL has consistently been shown to have a strong genetic component and a low incidence among Asians, but a growing body of evidence also links this major leukaemia type with environmental factors including solvents, unidentified farming and other occupational exposures. In contrast, CML is characterized by few genetic associations, relatively homogenous world-wide distribution, greater frequency in Blacks than in Whites, little evidence of viral aetiology, and evidence that exposures to ionizing radiation, benzene and possibly other chemical agents are important aetiological factors. Most studies suggest that acquired rather than genetic factors are of greater importance in the aetiology of CML, but this conclusion is somewhat difficult to reconcile with the relatively small variation in incidence rates internationally. Common to both disorders in most populations are an increasing incidence with age, male predominance, and stability of incidence, survival and mortality over the years, exclusive of improved survival of CML following allogeneic bone marrow transplantation.