Due to its capability to induce accumulation of protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) selectively in a multitude of different pathologies, 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) and its derivatives have attracted enormous attention in the field of photodynamic therapy (PDT) in the past two decades. The photochemical and photophysical properties of PpIX have been used for the fluorescence photodetection and photodynamic treatment of neoplasms in several medical indications in which conversion of ALA into PpIX seems to take place preferentially. Recently, this has led to the approval of this therapy for the treatment of actinic keratosis and basal cell carcinoma. When applied topically or systemically, ALA bypasses the negative feedback control that haem exerts on the enzyme ALA synthase (ALAS), which catalyses the natural production of this δ-amino acid, thereby temporarily boosting the generation of PpIX, the direct precursor of haem. Despite considerable interest in this treatment methodology, only little is known concerning the reasons for the selective accumulation of PpIX in neoplastic tissue upon ALA administration. Following an introduction into the biochemical as well as the chemical principles of haem synthesis, the present review tries to summarise experimental evidences of the mechanisms underlying preferential production of PpIX in neoplastic tissues. Thereby, morphological, environmental, enzymatic, as well as cell-specific factors will be discussed.