Pancreatic cancer remains a major unsolved health problem, with conventional cancer treatments having little impact on disease course. Almost all patients who have pancreatic cancer develop metastases and die. The main risk factors are smoking, age, and some genetic disorders, although the primary causes are poorly understood. Advances in molecular biology have, however, greatly improved understanding of the pathogenesis of pancreatic cancer. Many patients have mutations of the K-ras oncogene, and various tumour-suppressor genes are also inactivated. Growth factors also play an important part. However, disease prognosis is extremely poor. Around 15-20% of patients have resectable disease, but only around 20% of these survive to 5 years. For locally advanced, unresectable, and metastatic disease, treatment is palliative, although fluorouracil chemoradiation for locally advanced and gemcitabine chemotherapy for metastatic disease can provide palliative benefits. Despite pancreatic cancer's resistance to currently available treatments, new methods are being investigated. Preoperative chemoradiation is being advocated, with seemingly sound reasoning, and a wider role for gemcitabine is being explored. However, new therapeutic strategies based on the molecular biology of pancreatic cancer seem to hold the greatest promise.