Carcinoma of the pancreas is an aggressive tumour with an extremely poor prognosis. Recent studies have shown that chemotherapy can improve survival as well as quality of life. Since the prognosis is generally poor, the identification of early responders to chemotherapy is important to avoid unnecessary toxicity in patients who are not responding. Response assessment by conventional radiographic methods is problematical because treatment induces fibrosis and makes tumour measurements difficult. The aim of this pilot study was to assess 18-fluoro-deoxy-glucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) as an early marker of the benefit of chemotherapy. Eleven patients with histologically proven adenocarcinoma of the pancreas were treated with protracted venous infusional 5-fluorouracil (PVI 5-FU) alone or PVI 5-FU and mitomycin C (MMC). FDG-PET scans were performed prior to and at 1 month following the commencement of chemotherapy. FDG uptake was compared with the tumour dimensions measured on a computer tomographic (CT) scan. Patients were followed up for relapse, death and symptomatic response. Three of the 11 patients had no measurable FDG uptake prior to chemotherapy. Of the eight patients who had measurable uptake prior to treatment, seven had a reduction in uptake at 1 month. Six out of the 11 patients had no measurable FDG uptake at 1 month. The overall survival (OS) in these patients ranged from 124 to 1460 days, with a median of 318.5 days. This was superior in comparison to patients who had residual FDG uptake at 1 month (median survival 318.5 days vs 139 days; P = 0.034) and there was a trend to improved symptoms (84% [5/6] vs 20% [1/5]; P = 0.13). There was no statistically significant correlation between best CT response and FDG uptake at 1 month. These results suggest that the absence of FDG uptake at 1 month following chemotherapy for carcinoma of the pancreas is an indicator of improved overall survival. This suggests that FDG-PET may be superior to response assessment by conventional radiographic methods and FDG-PET may have the potential to help make difficult treatment decisions in the management of pancreatic cancer. Larger prospective studies are required to confirm this finding.