Three hundred ninety-three patients who were entered into pancreatic carcinoma treatment protocols of the Gastrointestinal Tumor Study Group (GITSG) were analyzed as to significant differences in clinical presentation and factors influencing survival. Patients were grouped according to the stage of the disease. Group I (21 cases) included those patients who had a potentially curative resection. Group II (182 cases) patients had a locally unresectable tumor less then 400 cm2 (surgically proven) and no distant metastases, and Group III (190 cases) had advanced disease. Group I patients had the smallest lesions (median area, 9 cm2), located in head of the gland in 90% and painless jaundice was the most frequent clinical presentation (52%). In Group II, 83% were located in the head of the gland but the median area was much larger (36 cm2). Pain was present in 80% of cases, and jaundice in 62% with 48% having jaundice and pain. In Group III patients, lesions of body and tail were over four-fold as frequent as in Group I and almost three-fold greater than in Group II. The median area of the lesion was large (30 cm2). Pain was present in 85% and jaundice in only 31%. Median survival in Group I patients was longer than Group III (73 versus 10 weeks; P less than 0.001). Ambulatory status, sex, race, abdominal pain, and histologic type influenced survival in one or more groups whereas age, jaundice, location of the tumor, degree of cellular differentiation, back pain, and nutritional status did not influence survival in any group. In all groups, those with a good performance status (Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group [ECOG] 0 and 1) survived longer than those with poor status (ECOG 2 and 3; P less than 0.05). The best potential prognosis is in those who are fully productive and present with painless jaundice, and who have resection of the tumor.