We performed a retrospective review of 59 pancreatic resections for ductal carcinoma of the pancreas head performed between 1971 and 1983. In addition to pancreaticoduodenectomy, 37 consecutive patients (from 1971 to 1981) received lymphatic dissection adjacent to the pancreatic head (Group R1), whereas another 22 patients (from 1981 to 1983) received a wider range of lymphatic and soft tissue dissection, including the para-aortic region (Group R2). These groups did not differ with regard to operative mortality rate or background factors in the patients who tolerated operation. The 3-year cumulative survival rate was 13% in the R1 group vs. 38% in the R2 group (p less than 0.05). Almost all of the deaths from cancer recurrence occurred within 3 years after operation; the cumulative rate of death from local recurrence decreased from 67 to 16% (p less than 0.05) at 3 years. Among the patients with nodal involvement, there was no 3-year survivor in the R1 group, but four (27%) in the R2 group (p less than 0.05) survived. Among the patients whose tumor size exceeded 4 cm with retroperitoneal invasion, there was no 3-year survivor in either group and most patients died of distant metastasis. Extended clearance of regional lymph nodes and soft tissue appears to benefit patients with ductal carcinoma of the pancreatic head whose tumor size is less than 4 cm without severe invasion to the retroperitoneal space.