Several recent studies have implicated oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes in the regulation of programmed cell death (apoptosis). Lesions in the cell death pathway appear to be important in both carcinogenesis and the evolution of drug resistance in tumours. They include deregulated expression of genes such as bcl-2, loss of p53, and autocrine activation of anti-apoptotic signal transduction pathways. Paradoxically, a number of dominant oncogenes appear to act as potent inducers of apoptosis. This suggests that the pathways of cell proliferation and cell death may be tightly coupled, an idea that may have dramatic implications for models of oncogene co-operation and carcinogenesis.