Many haematologic malignancies carry characteristic chromosomal translocations, which are thought to play an important role in the pathogenesis of these tumours. The t(8; 14) translocation in Burkitt's lymphoma was one of the first characterized at the molecular level. In this translocation the c-myc oncogene at chromosome 8q24 becomes deregulated by enhancer elements of the immunoglobulin heavy chain locus at chromosome 14q32 leading to a very aggressive B cell malignancy. Translocations involving an overexpressed c-myc gene are also found in AIDS-associated lymphoma or in T cell leukaemias, or they develop during tumour progression of a low grade B cell malignancy into a high grade B cell tumour in an additional cytogenetic change. A different mechanism of oncogene activation in a leukaemia specific chromosomal abnormality is found for CML, where c-abl sequences are fused into the bcr locus, or in the t(4; 11) of acute childhood leukaemia involving the recently identified ALL-1 gene at chromosome 11q23 resulting in a malfunctioning, structurally altered oncogene. Thus, in the past molecular and somatic cell genetic studies have clarified many details in aetiology and progression of leukaemias and lymphomas which are useful for applications in clinical diagnostics, and which in the future will be helpful in designing a therapy based on a molecular understanding.