A total of 22 patients with non-icteric pancreas head carcinoma were retrospectively compared with 61 patients with icteric pancreas head carcinoma. No significant difference was found regarding age, sex, greatest diameter, macroscopic type, microscopic type, stage, lymphatic permeation, perineural infiltration, venous invasion, lymph node metastasis, and the presence of cancer cells at the surgical margins. The main location of pancreas head carcinoma could be divided into two sites: the superior (pericholedochal), and inferior or distal (excholedochal) areas of the pancreas head. Sixteen (73%) of the 22 non-icteric pancreas head carcinomas were located in the inferior or distal area (excholedochal), while 28 (46%) of the 61 icteric pancreas head carcinomas were situated in the superior portion (pericholedochal) (P < 0.05). One (5%) of the 22 non-icteric pancreas head carcinomas was small pancreas carcinoma, compared with 11 (18%) of the 61 icteric pancreas head carcinomas. The cumulative 2-year and 4-year survival rates of the 22 patients with non-icteric pancreas head carcinoma were significantly worse than those of the 61 patients with icteric pancreas head carcinoma [7.9% vs. 24.6% (P < 0.05) and 0% vs. 13.4% (P < 0.01)]. These findings suggest that non-icteric pancreas head carcinomas normally arise in an area far from the biliary tree, and include a greater number of large tumors. Any resulting difficulty and delay in the diagnosis and treatment of this disease will usually lead to a worsening of the clinical course of non-icteric pancreas head carcinoma. © 1992 Wiley-Liss, Inc.