The worldwide annual pancreatic cancer death rate equals its estimated annual incidence. Surgery has been considered the only curative modality for this disease, but only 5 to 15% of patients are candidates for potentially curative resection. Evidence that postoperative adjuvant treatment improves outcome has been limited to a single randomised trial of a well tolerated split-course chemoradiation regimen. More intensive regimens have since been developed and are associated with, at best, a modest improvement in patient outcome. The potentially significant morbidity associated with pancreaticoduodenectomy, which can compromise the delivery of postoperative adjuvant chemoradiation, has led to the development of preoperative adjuvant ('neoadjuvant') chemoradiation in these patients. Although experience suggests that such an approach is feasible, its ultimate impact awaits further evaluation. Combined modality therapy has produced the most promising results in patients with unresectable or locally advanced disease. However, only modest improvements in median survival and minimal increases in long term survival have so far been achieved. This observation has encouraged many investigators to devise innovative methods of delivering therapy, including radioisotope implantation and intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT). Combined modality therapy with radioisotope implantation appears to have the greatest potential for improving local control and survival in these patients. IORT may be associated with lower morbidity than radioisotope implantation, but its impact may be limited by the radiobiological disadvantage associated with single dose boost therapy. Although new radiosensitising drugs are being tested, the problem of distant metastasis remains significant. New chemotherapeutic agents such as gemcitabine appear to have the potential to produce better results than those achieved over the last 35 years with fluorouracil. Investigations into the optimal integration of different therapeutic modalities, along with continued advances in surgery, radiation and systemic therapy, should lead to the increased use of modern multimodality interventions. In turn, this will lead us towards further improvements in outcomes for patients with pancreatic carcinoma.