In the United States, the cumulative mortality or lifetime risk of dying from pancreatic cancer is about 1-2%, but although this form of cancer is rare, nearly all patients die from the disease within one to two years. Because of its lethality, pancreatic cancer now ranks fourth as a cause of death from cancer. There are country-specific differences in rates, perhaps explained by differences in life-style factors or diet. African-Americans in the USA have rates that are about 50% higher than Caucasians. Smoking is the major known risk factor for this cancer, explaining 20-30% of all cases. Another 5-10% of causes are caused by germline mutations, with mutations in BRCA2 being the most frequent. Two background diseases increase the risk of pancreatic cancer-pancreatitis, and diabetes. Major challenges presented by this cancer are: 1) determination of the molecular pathways that make this cancer so aggressive; 2) development of new modalities, perhaps based on proteomics, to enhance early detection.