Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is made late, and prognosis remains extremely poor. This study was carried out to investigate whether symptoms exist before pain or jaundice that could suggest pancreatic cancer and favor earlier diagnosis. The study involved 305 patients with confirmed pancreatic cancer and 305 controls. All subjects were interviewed personally at least twice about their clinical history; pancreatic cancer patients were asked about any disturbances before abdominal pain or jaundice. Of the 305 pancreatic cancer patients, 151 (49.5%) had some prior disturbances, 108 (35.4%) 6 months or less before pain or jaundice and 43 (14.1%) more than 6 months before. Among the latter, 14 (4.6% of all patients) had had anorexia and/or early satiety and/or asthenia (7-20 months before pain or jaundice), 11 (3.6%) had disgust for coffee and/or smoking and/or wine (7-20 months before), 14 (4.6%) had diabetes (7-24 months before), and four (1.3%) had acute pancreatitis (8-26 months before). Among the controls, the only reports of these symptoms were two (0.7%) cases of asthenia (4 and 6 years earlier), 22 (7.2%) cases of diabetes (of which only two [0.7%] were diagnosed 7-24 months before the interview), and one (0.33%) case of acute pancreatitis (10 years earlier). Apart from acute pancreatitis, all the other differences between patients and controls were statistically significant. In approximately 15% of patients, disturbances existed more than 6 months before pain or jaundice, which, although not specific, could raise suspicion of the possibility of pancreatic cancer. These disturbances could represent the one current opportunity for an earlier diagnosis in a significant minority of pancreatic cancer patients.