Cell production within an organ is determined by the rate of immigration, proliferation, differentiation, emigration and death of cells. Abnormalities in any one of these processes will disturb normal control of cell production, thereby eliciting hyperplasia can be an early event in neoplasia. Cell death, apoptosis, is a physiological process responsible for removing unwanted cells. It is used in multi-cellular organisms for tissue remodelling during embryogenesis, regulation of cell turnover and as a defence strategy against invading pathogens. In this review article we describe the role of the bcl-2/ced-9 gene family in cancer and discuss the general implications of defects in the apoptosis program for tumourigenesis and resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapy in light of current knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of cell death.