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Pancreatic cancer, once invasive, is almost uniformly fatal. In order to alleviate the dismal prognosis associated with this disease, it is imperative that pancreatic cancer be recognized and treated prior to invasion. Understanding the morphology and biology of precursor lesions of invasive pancreatic cancer has therefore become an issue of paramount importance. In the last decade, significant progress has been in the recognition and appropriate classification of these precursor lesions, and the current review will focus on our state-of-the-art knowledge on this topic. Mucinous cystic neoplasms (MCNs), intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMNs), and pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PanIN) encompass the three known morphologically distinct precursors to invasive pancreatic cancer. In addition to discussion of the “classic” precursor entities, this review will also address some of the recent diagnostic controversies for these lesions, in particular features that distinguish IPMNs from PanIN lesions. Finally, the potential clinical impact of recognizing these precursor lesions in the context of early detection of pancreatic cancer will be discussed.