Gastro-oesophageal cancer is associated with a high incidence of cachexia. Proteolysis-inducing factor (PIF) has been identified as a possible cachectic factor and studies suggest that PIF is produced exclusively by tumour cells. We investigated PIF core peptide (PIF-CP) mRNA expression in tumour and benign tissue from patients with gastro-oesophageal cancer and in gastro-oesophageal biopsies for healthy volunteers. Tumour tissue and adjacent benign tissue were collected from patients with gastric and oesophageal cancer (n=46) and from benign tissue only in healthy controls (n=11). Expression of PIF-CP mRNA was quantified by real-time PCR. Clinical and pathological information along with nutritional status was collected prospectively. In the cancer patients, PIF-CP mRNA was detected in 27 (59%) tumour samples and 31 (67%) adjacent benign tissue samples. Four (36%) gastro-oesophageal biopsies from healthy controls also expressed PIF-CP mRNA. Expression was higher in tumour tissue (P=0.031) and benign tissue (P=0.022) from cancer patients compared with healthy controls. In the cancer patients, tumour and adjacent benign tissue PIF-CP mRNA concentrations were correlated with each other (P<0.0001, r=0.73) but did not correlate with weight loss or prognosis. Although PIF-CP mRNA expression is upregulated in both tumour and adjacent normal tissue in gastro-oesophageal malignancy, expression does not relate to prognosis or cachexia. Post-translational modification of PIF may be a key step in determining the biological role of PIF in the patient with advanced cancer and cachexia.