Between 1989 and 1993, 62 patients underwent Whipple pancreatoduodenectomy and 75 pylorus-preserving pancreatoduodenectomy (PPPD); 35 patients in the first group and 37 in the second had pancreatic adenocarcinoma while 17 and 21 patients respectively had periampullary adenocarcinoma. The aim of this retrospective study was the comparison of operative outcome, nutritional recovery and survival of patients who underwent these two operations. No significant differences were found between the two groups in operative mortality or morbidity, duration of gastric aspiration and time to start of solid meals. Patients who underwent PPPD had a better nutritional recovery: the increase of both body-weight and serum albumin level at 6 months after discharge was significantly higher for those who had preservation of the whole stomach (P < 0.001 and P < 0.05 respectively). No significant difference in survival was found between the two procedures when patients with pancreatic or periampullary adenocarcinoma were analysed separately.