Pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis and is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, which makes it difficult to treat. The low survival rate of patients with pancreatic cancer points towards an increased need for novel therapeutic and chemopreventive strategies and also early detection of this disease. Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables has been associated with a reduced risk of pancreatic cancer. Synthetic and natural, diet-derived bioactive compounds have been evaluated as pancreatic cancer chemopreventive agents and have demonstrated various degrees of efficacy in cellular and in vivo animal models. Some chemopreventive agents (for example, curcumin or resveratrol) have also been reported to sensitize pancreatic cancer cells to standard chemotherapeutic drugs (for example, gemcitabine or erlotinib), which suggests that chemopreventive agents could potentially be used as potentiators of standard chemotherapy. Few clinical trials of pancreatic cancer chemopreventive agents have been completed and some are in early phases. Further development of pancreatic cancer chemopreventive agents may prove to be tremendously valuable for individuals at high risk of developing pancreatic cancer and patients who present with premalignant lesions. This Review discusses the current state of the pancreatic cancer chemoprevention field and highlights the challenges ahead.