In Shanghai, China, age-adjusted incidence rates for pancreatic cancer have increased steadily, beginning in the early 1970s. To examine the effects of diet on this cancer, a population-based case-control study was conduct. Cases (n = 451) were permanent residents of Shanghai, 30-74 years of age, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer between October 1, 1990 and June 30, 1993. Decreased cases (19%) were excluded from the study. Controls (n = 1552) were selected among Shanghai residents, frequency matched to cases by gender and age. Information on usual adult dietary intake was obtained by trained interviewers in person, using a food frequency questionnaire. Dietary associations were measured by odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals. Risks of pancreatic cancer were inversely associated with consumption of vegetables (P for trend among men = 0.03; among women = 0.15) and fruits (P among men = 0.02; among women = 0.08). Reductions in risk were related also to intake of dietary fiber and micronutrients abundant in plant sources, such as vitamins C and E and carotene. There was also an inverse association with egg consumption (P for trend among men = 0.08; among women = 0.001). No consistent positive associations were observed with intake of other food groups, including preserved animal foods, fresh red meat, organ meat, poultry, and staple foods. On the other hand, risks increased with frequency of consumption of preserved vegetables and foods that were deep fried, grilled, cured, or smoked, providing clues to the possible role of nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heterocyclic aromatic amines. The inverse associations observed with intake of dietary fat and protein in our study were unexpected, although these findings were based on consumptions well below the average intake in Western countries, where most previous studies on pancreatic cancer were conducted. Our results suggest that dietary variations have contributed little to the rising trends of pancreatic cancer in Shanghai. However, given the improving food availability and changing dietary patterns in China, further study of dietary and nutritional risk factors for pancreatic cancer appears warranted.