The aim of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of using diffusion-weighted MRI to monitor the early response of pancreatic cancers to radiofrequency heat (RFH)-enhanced chemotherapy. Human pancreatic carcinoma cells (PANC-1) in different groups and 24 mice with pancreatic cancer xenografts in four groups were treated with phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) as a control, RFH at 42 °C, gemcitabine and gemcitabine plus RFH at 42 °C. One day before and 1, 7 and 14 days after treatment, diffusion-weighted MRI and T2-weighted imaging were applied to monitor the apparent diffusion coefficients (ADCs) of tumors and tumor growth. MRI findings were correlated with the results of tumor apoptosis analysis. In the in vitro experiments, the quantitative viability assay showed lower relative cell viabilities for treatment with gemcitabine plus RFH at 42 °C relative to treatment with RFH only and gemcitabine only (37 ± 5% versus 65 ± 4% and 58 ± 8%, respectively, p < 0.05). In the in vivo experiments, the combination therapy resulted in smaller relative tumor volumes than RFH only and chemotherapy only (0.82 ± 0.17 versus 2.23 ± 0.90 and 1.64 ± 0.44, respectively, p = 0.003). In vivo, 14-T MRI demonstrated a remarkable decrease in ADCs at day 1 and increased ADCs at days 7 and 14 in the combination therapy group. The apoptosis index in the combination therapy group was significantly higher than those in the chemotherapy-only, RFH-only and PBS treatment groups (37 ± 6% versus 20 ± 5%, 8 ± 2% and 3 ± 1%, respectively, p < 0.05). This study confirms that it is feasible to use MRI to monitor RFH-enhanced chemotherapy in pancreatic cancers, which may present new options for the efficient treatment of pancreatic malignancies using MRI/RFH-integrated local chemotherapy. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.