Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) is a T/null-cell neoplasm characterized by chromosomal translocations involving the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene (ALK). Tumours with similar morphology and phenotype but negative for ALK have been also recognized. The secondary chromosomal imbalances of these lymphomas are not well known. We have examined 74 ALCL, 43 ALK-positive and 31 ALK-negative, cases by comparative genomic hybridization (CGH), and locus-specific alterations for TP53 and ATM were examined by fluorescence in situ hybridization and real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Chromosomal imbalances were detected in 25 (58%) ALK-positive and 20 (65%) ALK-negative ALCL. ALK-positive ALCL with NPM-ALK or other ALK variant translocations showed a similar profile of secondary genetic alterations. Gains of 17p and 17q24-qter and losses of 4q13-q21, and 11q14 were associated with ALK-positive cases (P = 0·05), whereas gains of 1q and 6p21 were more frequent in ALK-negative tumours (P = 0·03). Gains of chromosome 7 and 6q and 13q losses were seen in both types of tumours. ALCL-negative tumours had a significantly worse prognosis than ALK-positive. However no specific chromosomal alterations were associated with survival. In conclusion, ALK-positive and negative ALCL have different secondary genomic aberrations, suggesting they correspond to different genetic entities.