Eighty-nine patients with carcinoma of the head of the pancreas underwent pancreaticoduodenectomies. The actuarial 5-year survival for all 89 patients was 19%, with a median survival of 11.9 months. The 81 hospital survivors were analyzed in an effort to determine factors influencing long-term survival. Negative lymph nodes and the absence of blood vessel invasion both favored long-term survival. The strongest predictive factor was negative lymph node status with a median survival of 55.8 months, compared with 11 months with lymph nodes involved with tumor (p less than 0.05). Blood transfusions were also predictive, with patients receiving two or fewer units having a median survival of 24.7 months, compared with 10.2 months for those receiving three or more units (p less than 0.05). The most important determinant of long-term survival after pancreaticoduodenectomy for pancreatic cancer is biology of the tumor (lymph node status, blood vessel invasion). However, performance of the resection (units of blood transfused) also appears to be an important factor influencing survival.