Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal tumours of the gastrointestinal tract. The ability to predict which patients would benefit most from surgical intervention and/or chemotherapy would be a great clinical asset. Considerable research has focused on identifying molecular events in pancreatic carcinogenesis, and their correlation with clinicopathological variables of pancreatic tumours and survival. This systematic review examined evidence from published manuscripts looking at molecular markers in pancreatic cancer and their correlation with tumour stage and grade, response to chemotherapy and long-term survival. A literature search was undertaken using PubMed and MEDLINE search engines, using the keywords p53, p21, p16, p27, SMAD4, K-ras, cyclin D1, Bax, Bcl-2, EGFR, EGF, c-erbB2, HB-EGF, TGFbeta, FGF, MMP, uPA, cathepsin, heparanase, E-cadherin, laminins, integrins, TMSF, CD44, cytokines, angiogenesis, VEGF, IL-8, beta-catenin, DNA microarray, and gene profiling. A bewildering number of biomarkers are currently under evaluation. For the most part, the evidence regarding their application as prognostic indicators is conflicting. The advent of gene microarray and mass spectrometric protein profiling offers the potential to examine many different biomarkers simultaneously. This 'protein/gene signature' could revolutionise work in this field and allow researchers to develop accurate and reproducible predictions of survival based on protein or gene profiles.