The p53 gene is inactivated in about 50% of human cancers and the p53 protein is an essential component of the cell response induced by genotoxic stresses such as those generated by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. It is therefore highly likely that these alterations are an important component in tumor resistance to therapy. The particular characteristics of these alterations, 80% of which are missense mutations leading to functionally heterogeneous proteins, make p53 a unique gene in the class of tumor suppressor genes. A considerable number of mutant p53 proteins probably have an oncogenic activity per se and therefore actively participate in cell transformation. The fact that the apoptotic and antiproliferative functions of p53 can be dissociated in certain mutants also suggests another level of complexity in the relationships between p53 inactivation and neoplasia.