Seventy-five patients with resistant acute leukemia or lymphoma received high-dose cyclophosphamide and etoposide to explore the activity of this combination in resistant hematologic malignancies, and to determine the maximum doses of these drugs that can be combined without bone marrow transplantation. Etoposide was administered over 29 to 69 hours by continuous infusion corresponding to total doses of 1.8 g/m2 to 4.8 g/m2. Cyclophosphamide, 50 mg/kg/d, was administered on 3 or 4 consecutive days total 150 to 200 mg/kg ideal body weight). At all dose levels myelosuppression was severe but reversible. Mucosal toxicity was dose-limiting with the maximum tolerated dose level combining etoposide 4.2 g/m2 with cyclophosphamide 200 mg/kg. Continuous etoposide infusion produced stable plasma levels that were lower than would be achieved after administration by short intravenous infusion, and this could explain our ability to escalate etoposide above the previously reported maximum tolerated dose. There were 28 complete (35%) and 12 partial (16%) responses. Median duration of complete response (CR) was 3.5 months (range 1.1 to 20+). Seventeen of 40 patients (42%) with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) achieved CR, including 6 of 20 (30%) with high-dose cytosine arabinoside resistance. We conclude that bone marrow transplantation is not required after maximum tolerated doses of etoposide and cyclophosphamide. This regimen is active in resistant hematologic neoplasms, and the occurrence of CR in patients with high-dose cytosine arabinoside-resistant AML indicates a lack of complete cross-resistance between these regimens.