The lytic response of lymphoid cells to glucocorticoid hormones (GC) is prototypical of the induction of apoptosis: a special form of cellular demise for the removal of unwanted or redundant cells. Initiation and execution of a death programme are therefore major checkpoints in GC-sensitivity. Although Bcl-2 protein can prevent or delay apoptosis of lymphoma and leukemia cells, exposed to multiple cytotoxic agents, its antagonism of GC-induced apoptosis appears most critical in conferring resistance to corticosteroids. Moreover, Bcl-2 may modulate GC-signalling to apoptosis through its association with fundamental cellular processes such as energy state, Ca2+ homeostasis and transmembrane transport. However, this signalling pathway can also be interrupted by Bcl-2- independent mechanisms. This review discusses the various cellular and oncogenetic factors that control GC sensitivity of leukemia/lymphoma cells and proposes a hypothesis of how GC may induce a death programme, sensitive to blockade by Bcl-2.