Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) can be divided into two major groups. The first is a spectrum of CD30+ T-cell lymphoproliferative disorders including primary cutaneous ALCL and lymphomatoid papulosis, usually affecting older patients but characterized by an excellent prognosis. The second is systemic nodal ALCL, which on the basis of genetic and immunophenotypic features combined with clinical parameters can be divided into two subgroups: anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)-positive and ALK-negative systemic ALCL. ALK expression, usually the result of a t(2;5) translocation, correlates with the expression of other markers such as EMA and a cytotoxic phenotype, and is strongly related to younger age groups, lower international prognostic index (IPI) risk groups, and a good prognosis. ALK-negative ALCL, however, shows a more heterogeneous immunophenotype and clinical behaviour, and prognostic parameters are needed to determine treatment strategies in individual patients. Besides clinical parameters included in the IPI, recent studies have pointed out several biological prognosticators of potential value, such as the percentage of tumour-infiltrating activated cytotoxic T-lymphocytes. The expression of proteins involved in the execution or regulation of apoptosis, such as activated caspase 3, Bcl-2, and PI9, was also found to be strongly related to clinical outcome. These studies indicate that inhibition of the apoptosis cascade in particular is an important mechanism that can explain the poor clinical outcome in therapy refractory ALCL. Functional studies are required to investigate whether disruption of one or more of the apoptosis pathways is the major factor in the fatal outcome of the disease and whether apoptosis resistance based on inhibition of one pathway can be overcome by activating another pathway that is still intact. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.