Malignant lymphomas frequently develop in the pleural cavity of patients with long-standing pyothorax. Thus, the term pyothorax-associated lymphoma (PAL) has been proposed for this type of tumor. Most PAL are of the type diffuse lymphoma of B cell and contain Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNA. This article reviews the mechanism for the development of PAL. The possible contribution of EBV infection, inflammatory cytokines and other genetic lesions, including the p53 gene, towards the growth advantage of neoplastic cells is described. Although the presence of EBV is focused in PAL cells, the contribution of EBV-mediated growth promotion in PAL is limited. Another important characteristic of PAL is that the virus antigen-positive lymphoma develops in patients with pyothorax, in whom the systemic immunodeficiency is unlikely to be present. Therefore, in the course of the development of PAL, the mechanism for the evading host immune surveillance must be obvious. In this context, the production of an immunosuppressive cytokine from PAL cells, human histocompatibility leukocyte antigen class I alleles of patients with PAL, and the mutations of cytotoxic T lymphocyte epitopes in an EBV-latent antigen are described. These mechanisms could be involved in the development of PAL, an EBV-positive lymphoma developing in an immunocompetent host, and also shed light on the tumorigenesis of other EBV-positive neoplasms and on the lymphomagenesis of other inflammatory lesions.