Overexpression of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) has been reported as an important molecular abnormality in human pancreatic cancer. There is in vitro evidence that simultaneous overproduction of one of its ligands, transforming growth factor alpha (TGF-alpha), might result in an autocrine loop with an increased proliferation signal. We analysed by immunocytochemical staining a retrospective series of human pancreatic cancers, chronic pancreatitis, and normal fetal and adult pancreatic tissues for the presence of TGF-alpha and epidermal growth factor (EGF). Ductal epithelial cells showed TGF-alpha immunoreactivity in both normal tissue and chronic pancreatitis, and 95 per cent of tumours showed strong immunoreactivity. In contrast, EGF immunoreactivity was not found in normal pancreas, but was expressed in 12 per cent of pancreatic carcinomas. Well-defined areas of EGF immunoreactivity in exocrine ducts showing reactive changes in pancreatitis might represent a benign response to tissue damage similar to that previously described in the gastric mucosa.