Acute leukemia is the most frequent therapy-related malignancy. Together with the increasing use of chemo- and radiotherapy, individual predisposing factors play a key role. Most of secondary leukemias can be divided in two well-defined groups: those secondary to the use of alkylating agents and those associated to topoisomerase inhibitors. Leukemias induced by alkylating agents usually follow a long period of latency from the primary tumour and present as myelodysplasia with unbalanced chromosomal aberrations. These frequently include deletions of chromosome 13 and loss of the entire or of part of chomosomes 5 or 7. The loss of the coding regions for tumor suppressor genes from hematopoietic progenitor cells is a particularly unfavourable event, since the remaining allele becomes susceptible to inactivating mutations leading to the leukemic transformation. The tumorigenic action of topoisomerase inhibitors is on the other hand due to the formation of multiple DNA strand breaks, resolved by chromosomal translocations. Among these, chromosome 11, band q23, where the myeloid-lymphoid leukemia (MLL) gene is located, is often involved. Frequent partners are chromosomes 9, 19 and 4 in the t(9;11), t(19;11) and t(4;11) translocations. Younger age, a mean period of latency of 2 years and monocytic subtypes are characteristic features of this type of leukemia. Among patients at risk for secondary leukemia, those with Hodgkin's disease are the most extensively studied, with the major impact of alkylating agents included in the chemotherapy schedule. The same is true for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, while in multiple myeloma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia determinants are the dose of melphalan and of epypodophyllotoxin, respectively. Patients with breast, ovarian and testicular neoplasms are also at risk, in particular if trated with the association of alkylating agents and topoisomerase II inhibitors. According to the EBMT registry, in patients with lymphoma treated with high-dose therapy and autologous stem cell transplantation the cumulative risk of inducing leukemia at 5 years is 2.6%. Among treatment options, supportive therapy is indicated in older patients, while allogeneic stem cell transplantation, related or matched-unrelated, is feasible in younger patients. These data indicate the need for the identification of predisposing factors for secondary leukemia. In particular, frequent follow-up of patients at high-risk should be performed and any peripheral blood cytopenia should be considered suspicious. Whenever possible, the exclusion of drugs known to be leukemogenic from the treatment schedules should be considered, especially in young patients.