Thirty-two patients with pathologically proved pancreatic carcinomas or cystadenomas were evaluated with MR images obtained with T1-weighted spin echo (short TR/short TE), inversion recovery, and T2-weighted spin-echo (long TR/long TE) pulse sequences. CT was used as the reference standard to determine the ability of MR to delineate normal and abnormal pancreatic anatomy and thereby to exclude or detect pancreatic malignancy. Short TR/short TE spin-echo sequences were significantly better (p less than .05) than inversion recovery or T2-weighted spin-echo sequences in resolution of both normal and abnormal anatomy. Resolution of pancreatic anatomy correlated (r = .9) with the image signal-to-noise ratio. In seven (22%) of 32 cases, MR visualized pancreatic tumors better than CT did because it showed a signal intensity difference between the tumor and normal pancreatic tissue. Overall, the slight superiority of MR over CT for tumor visualization tended to occur in larger tumors and was not statistically significant. On T1-weighted images, 63% (20 of 32) of pancreatic tumors studied had lower signal intensities than normal pancreatic tissue, whereas on T2-weighted sequences (TE = 60, 120, and 180 msec) only 41% (13 of 32) of tumors had increased signal intensities. Currently available MR imaging techniques offer no significant advantages over CT for evaluating the pancreas for neoplasia.