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The survival benefit of adjuvant radiotherapy and 5-fluorouracil versus observation alone after surgery was investigated in patients with pancreatic head and periampullary cancers.A previous study of adjuvant radiotherapy and chemotherapy in these cancers by the Gastrointestinal Tract Cancer Cooperative Group of EORTC has been followed by other studies with conflicting results.Eligible patients with T1-2N0-1aM0 pancreatic head or T1-3N0-1aM0 periampullary cancer and histologically proven adenocarcinoma were randomized after resection.Between 1987 and 1995, 218 patients were randomized (108 patients in the observation group, 110 patients in the treatment group). Eleven patients were ineligible (five in the observation group and six in the treatment group). Baseline characteristics were comparable between the two groups. One hundred fourteen patients (55%) had pancreatic cancer (54 in the observation group and 60 in the treatment group). In the treatment arm, 21 patients (20%) received no treatment because of postoperative complications or patient refusal. In the treatment group, only minor toxicity was observed. The median duration of survival was 19.0 months for the observation group and 24.5 months in the treatment group (log-rank, p = 0.208). The 2-year survival estimates were 41% and 51%, respectively. The results when stratifying for tumor location showed a 2-year survival rate of 26% in the observation group and 34% in the treatment group (log-rank, p = 0.099) in pancreatic head cancer; in periampullary cancer, the 2-year survival rate was 63% in the observation group and 67% in the treatment group (log-rank, p = 0.737). No reduction of locoregional recurrence rates was apparent in the groups.Adjuvant radiotherapy in combination with 5-fluorouracil is safe and well tolerated. However, the benefit in this study was small; routine use of adjuvant chemoradiotherapy is not warranted as standard treatment in cancer of the head of the pancreas or periampullary region.