Activation of nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) signaling was observed in pancreatic adenocarcinoma cell lines and tumours. However, information on the expression of RelA/p65, the major transcription activating NF-kappaB subunit, in these carcinomas and possible correlations thereof with NF-kappaB activation and patient survival is not available. To provide this missing translational link, we analysed expression of RelA/p65 in 82 pancreatic adenocarcinomas by immunohistochemistry. Moreover, we measured activation of the NF-kappaB pathway in 11 tumours by quantitative PCR for NF-kappaB target genes. We observed strong cytoplasmic or nuclear expression of RelA/p65 in 42 and 37 carcinomas, respectively. High cytoplasmic and nuclear expression of RelA/p65 had negative prognostic impact with 2-year survival rates for patients without cytoplasmic or nuclear RelA/p65 positivity of 41 and 40% and rates for patients with strong cytoplasmic or nuclear RelA/p65 expression of 22 and 20%, respectively. High RelA/p65 expression was correlated to increased expression of NF-kappaB target genes. The observation that high expression of RelA/p65 is correlated to an activation of the NF-kappaB pathway and indicates poor patient survival identifies a patient subgroup that might particularly benefit from NF-kappaB-inhibiting agents in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. Based on our findings, this subgroup could be identified by applying simple immunohistochemical techniques.