Apoptosis is an essential part of the normal cellular phenotype repertoire. In the absence of appropriate survival factors, apoptosis is activated through specific signalling cassettes. Epithelia form distinctive three-dimensional cohesive structures that depend on adhesive interactions in order for these tissues to carry out their specialised roles, such as secretion and reproduction. The cellular programme that triggers apoptosis in epithelial cells has not yet been shown to differ from that in other cell types, yet the unique characteristics of epithelia endow them with specific determinants for survival. In particular, cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions are required to prevent entry of epithelial cells into apoptosis, and soluble factors that have profound effects on epithelia, such as steroid hormones or hepatocyte growth factor, also influence their survival. The regenerative capacity of certain epithelia is controlled by intrinsic expression of survival genes within stem cell populations, and may regulate the susceptibility of different epithelial tissues to undergo carcinogenesis.