The treatment of advanced pancreatic carcinoma has been viewed with pessimism. Because of the lack of activity of commonly used agents, there is no consensus regarding a standard chemotherapy regimen. Assessment of response is neither uniform nor reproducible. Debilitating tumor-related symptoms, including pain, anorexia, weight loss, and impaired performance status, are common. Many studies have failed to evaluate the palliative benefit of treatments, although many patients consider such benefit to be of the utmost importance. Tools have been developed to uniformly assess tumor-related symptoms, and the concept of clinical benefit response has been developed as an end point to quantify symptomatic improvement utilizing these tools. Clinical benefit response incorporates palliative measures, such as pain control, analgesic consumption, performance status, and weight gain. In early phase I and II trials, gemcitabine (Gemzar) has shown activity in patients with chemotherapynaive advanced pancreatic carcinoma. In addition to producing some responses and symptomatic benefit, gemcitabine has a favorable toxicity profile. Two recent trials using clinical benefit response as the primary end point have demonstrated that gemcitabine significantly improves disease-related symptoms in approximately one-quarter of patients. These trials also showed improved survival with gemcitabine, as compared with fluorouracil. Additional studies are required to fully assess the role of gemcitabine in both adjuvant and advanced disease settings.