Tumour lysis syndrome (TLS) describes the metabolic derangements that occur with tumour breakdown following the initiation of cytotoxic therapy. TLS results from the rapid destruction of malignant cells and the abrupt release of intracellular ions, nucleic acids, proteins and their metabolites into the extracellular space. These metabolites can overwhelm the body's normal homeostatic mechanisms and cause hyperuricaemia, hyperkalaemia, hyperphosphaetemia, hypocalcaemia and uraemia. TLS can lead to acute renal failure and can be life-threatening. Early recognition of patients at risk and initiation of therapy for TLS is essential. There is a high incidence of TLS in tumours with high proliferative rates and tumour burden such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and Burkitt's lymphoma. The mainstays of TLS prophylaxis and treatment include aggressive hydration and diuresis, control of hyperuricaemia with allopurinol prophylaxis and rasburicase treatment, and vigilant monitoring of electrolyte abnormalities. Urine alkalinization remains controversial. Unfortunately, there have been few comprehensive reviews on this important subject. In this review, we describe the incidence, pathophysiological mechanisms of TLS and risk factors for its development. We summarise recent advances in the management of TLS and provide a new classification system and recommendations for prophylaxis and/or treatment based on this classification scheme.