Weight loss is common in patients with pancreatic cancer; however, the nature and progress of their nutritional depletion are not well documented. In this study, pre-illness weight and duration of weight loss were recorded in 20 patients with histologically confirmed unresectable cancer of the pancreas. Patients then underwent nutritional analysis at monthly intervals until death. The median period of assessment was 27 weeks (interquartile range 22.5-38.0 weeks). At the time of diagnosis, all patients had lost weight [median 14.2% (10.0-20.0%) of pre-illness stable weight], and this weight loss was progressive, increasing to a median of 24.5% by the time of the last assessment (P =0.0004). Body mass index was significantly reduced from a pre-illness median value of 24.9 kg m-2 (22.4-27.4 kg m-2) to 20.7 kg m-2 (19.5-23.6 kg m-2) at the time of diagnosis and further to 17.7 kg m-2 (16.6-23.1 kg m-2) just before death (P =0.0003). Further evidence of tissue depletion was evident from the significant reductions in lean body mass [43.4 kg (36.9-53.0 kg) to 40.1 kg (33.5-50.7 kg) P =0.008] and fat mass [12.5 kg (8.9-17.8 kg) to 9.6 kg (6.3-15.1 kg) P =0.03). This study confirms that the majority of patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer have already undergone significant weight loss by the time of diagnosis and that the natural history of this process is one of inexorable progression. These results highlight the need for selective non-toxic therapeutic intervention to attenuate cachexia and indicate that such interventions should be instituted early in the course of the disease.