Between March 1, 1968 and March 1, 1986, 323 patients underwent surgery for cancer of the pancreas or the periampullary region. Extirpative procedures were performed in 91 patients, of whom 51 had ductal carcinoma of the pancreas. Forty-seven patients had total pancreatectomy, 9 associated with resection of the portal vein and 1 with total gastrectomy. Operative mortality was 15% but fell to zero for the 19 total pancreatectomies performed after 1981. With the introduction of total pancreatectomy, the resectability rate increased from 15% to 32%. Overall mean survival was 14.4 months. Actuarial survival was 42.4% at 1 year, 25.6% at 2 years, 11.9% at 3 years, and 8% at 5 years. Six patients are alive 7, 11, 14, 30, 30, and 73 months, respectively, after operation. Survival was calculated according to the classifications of Hermreck, Tryka and Brooks, and the TNM system. Ductal carcinoma was multifocal in 32% of patients, and 25% had epithelial dysplasia of the pancreatic duct. When portal vein resection was necessary, mean survival was 6.1 months, compared with 18.25 months when it was not performed. We conclude that total pancreatectomy has increased our resectability rate, mainly in patients with tumor spread beyond the usual margins of division for Whipple's procedure. However, the procedure does not appear worthwhile when portal vein resection is necessary or when multicentric cancer or neoplastic emboli are observed in the operative specimen.