K-ras mutations are frequently found in primary pancreatic adenocarcinomas. In this prospective study, we looked for K-ras mutations in the plasma of patients with pancreatic cancer. We isolated plasma DNA from 21 pancreatic cancer patients using a simple and rapid extraction technique and detected K-ras alterations with a PCR assay and subsequent product sequencing. Patients were followed up to determine their clinical outcome. We found K-ras mutations in the plasma of 17 patients (81%). In cases in which both plasma and pancreatic tissue were available, DNA mutations were similar in corresponding plasma and tissue samples. Plasma DNA alterations were found 5-14 months before clinical diagnosis in four patients. Mutant DNA was not found in the plasma of two patients with chronic pancreatitis or in five healthy controls. Our results indicate that K-ras mutations are often found in DNA isolated from the plasma of pancreatic cancer patients and that a noninvasive plasma-based assay may provide qualitative diagnostic information to clinicians in the future. Larger studies are required to further assess the relevance of our findings to clinical practice.