Adenocarcinoma of the pancreas ranks fourth as a cause of cancer death in adults in the United States and is the second most common cause of cancer deaths of all gastrointestinal-related carcinomas. It usually presents late in its course. In this article, the authors discuss the clinical features of pancreatic cancer, with emphasis on those that allow early detection of the disease. They also review diagnostic methods and preoperative and perioperative staging that allows the appropriate application of surgical and palliative therapeutic modalities. Despite the significant progress that has been made, further research studies are needed to advance the therapeutic approach to this aggressive cancer.