During the period 1984-87, 472 patients with histologically or cytologically verified carcinoma of the pancreas (n = 442) or the papilla of Vater (n = 30) were accrued. Diagnostic investigations were performed in accordance with the ordinary routines of 38 Norwegian hospitals. Jaundice at presentation, found in 47% of the patients, indicated a relatively low staging. Abdominal pain or weight loss, present in 72% and 58%, respectively, indicated higher staging. The sensitivities of the diagnostic investigations were 1) endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), 79%, and computed tomography (CT), 75%; 2) ultrasonography (US), 57%; angiography performed in 18% to assess unresectability, sensitivity, 43%; fine-needle aspiration cytology performed in 27%, sensitivity, 86%; and percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC) performed solely on papillar and head tumours in 16%, sensitivity, 85%. In stage I, PTC and ERCP had a sensitivity of 78%; CT, 52%; and US, 40%. Patient's, physician's, and diagnostic delay averaged 1.8, 2.4, and 4.0 months, respectively. The delays were shortest in stage I and papillar carcinomas.