Patients with Hodgkin's disease who have failed two or more chemotherapy regimens or who have relapsed after an initial chemotherapy-induced remission of less than 12 months are seldom cured with conventional salvage therapies. We studied the effect of high-dose cytoreductive therapy followed by bone marrow transplantation in 50 such patients with relapsed Hodgkin's disease. Twenty-one patients with histocompatability locus antigen (HLA)-matched donors had allogeneic marrow transplants, one patient received marrow from an identical twin, and 28 patients without a matched donor received autologous grafts purged with 4-hydroperoxycyclophosphamide. Busulfan plus cyclophosphamide was the preparative regimen for the 25 patients who had received extensive prior irradiation, and the other 25 patients received cyclophosphamide plus total body irradiation. The overall actuarial probability of event-free survival at 3 years was 30%, with a median follow-up of 26 months. The event-free survival following transplantation was influenced by the number of chemotherapy failures and the patient's response to conventional salvage therapy prior to transplant. The 16 patients who were transplanted at first relapse, while still responsive to standard therapy, had a 64% actuarial probability of event-free survival at 3 years. Age, presence of extranodal disease, preparative regimen, and type of graft (autologous v allogeneic) were not significant prognostic factors. The majority of transplant-related deaths were from interstitial pneumonitis; inadequate pulmonary function, multiple prior chemotherapy regimens, and prior chest irradiation all appeared to increase the transplant-related mortality. These results suggest a role for marrow transplantation in a subset of patients with relapsed Hodgkin's disease who are unlikely to be otherwise cured but are still responsive to conventional-dose cytoreductive therapy.