The successes with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy in early clinical trials involving patients with pre-B cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) or B cell lymphomas have revolutionized anticancer therapy, providing a potentially curative option for patients who are refractory to standard treatments. These trials resulted in rapid FDA approvals of anti-CD19 CAR T cell products for both ALL and certain types of B cell lymphoma - the first approved gene therapies in the USA. However, growing experience with these agents has revealed that remissions will be brief in a substantial number of patients owing to poor CAR T cell persistence and/or cancer cell resistance resulting from antigen loss or modulation. Furthermore, the initial experience with CAR T cells has highlighted challenges associated with manufacturing a patient-specific therapy. Understanding the limitations of CAR T cell therapy will be critical to realizing the full potential of this novel treatment approach. Herein, we discuss the factors that can preclude durable remissions following CAR T cell therapy, with a primary focus on the resistance mechanisms that underlie disease relapse. We also provide an overview of potential strategies to overcome these obstacles in an effort to more effectively incorporate this unique therapeutic strategy into standard treatment paradigms.