Thirty-six patients underwent curative resection of a primary pancreatic carcinoma from January 1977 to September 1987; 26 had Whipple resections, seven had total pancreatectomies, and three had distal pancreatectomies. Twenty-six patients manifested recurrent disease, four died of intercurrent disease, and six were apparently cured. Median survival was 11.5 months with actuarial survival at 2 and 5 years of 32% and 17%, respectively. Of the eventual recurrences, 19% were local only (pancreatic bed, regional nodes, adjacent organs, and immediately adjacent peritoneum) and 73% had a component of local failure. All patients failing did so with a component in the intraabdominal cavity. Peritoneal (42%) and hepatic failures (62%) were common. Extraabdominal metastases were documented in only 27%, but never as a sole site. Fourteen patient and tumor characteristics were evaluated for any relationships with failure or survival. No single variable independently predicted for local failure. However, a group of three (age greater than 60 years, T2 or T3 stage, and location of tumor in the body or tail) was associated with a substantial local failure risk (85% of all patients with local failure). Multivariate analysis showed that low tumor grade (P = 0.002), female sex (P = 0.002), and adjuvant radiation (P = 0.02) were all independent predictors of prolonged survival. Ten patients were treated in an adjacent setting. Those given 55 Gy or greater had improved local control (50% versus 25%) and cure (33% versus none) when compared with patients treated to lower doses. The authors conclude that local failure after curative resection remains a significant problem and further efforts to improve local control are warranted. However, peritoneal and hepatic relapses occur frequently. Thus, adjuvant treatment strategies using wide-field radiation techniques or intraperitoneal therapy, in combination with local tumor bed irradiation and chemotherapy, should be explored.