Pancreatic cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and despite improvements in the results of surgical treatment for this disease, little impact has been made upon overall mortality. New advances in treatment will depend upon improved adjuvant therapy, early diagnosis, and a better understanding of tumor biology. This article summarizes the results of molecular genetic studies in pancreatic cancer and their potential clinical significance. Familial predisposition to pancreatic cancer, cytogenic studies, DNA ploidy analysis, and examination of specific oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes are reviewed. The most frequent mutations detected have been in the K-ras oncogene, which occur in 80% of pancreatic cancers. These mutations do not correlate with tumor stage or survival, but can be useful in differentiating pancreatic exocrine from endocrine tumors and chronic pancreatitis. Mutations in the p53 gene occur in approximately 50% of tumors, and appear to be an independent prognostic factor for patient survival. Mutations in the CDKN2 gene are frequently seen in sporadic pancreatic cancers, and have been implicated in cases of familial pancreatic cancer. The significance of mutations in APC, MCC, DCC, c-erbB-2, RB-1, and mismatch repair genes in the genesis of pancreatic cancer is less clear.