Pancreatic cancer is a highly aggressive malignancy with limited treatment options. Type-I interferons (e.g. IFN-α/-β) have several anti-tumour activities. Over the past few years, clinical studies evaluating the effect of adjuvant IFN-α therapy in pancreatic cancer yielded equivocal results. Although IFN-α and -β act via the type-I IFN receptor, the role of the number of receptors present on tumour cells is still unknown. Therefore, this study associated, for the first time, in a large panel of pancreatic cancer cell lines the effects of IFN-α/-β with the expression of type-I IFN receptors. The anti-tumour effects of IFN-α or IFN-β on cell proliferation and apoptosis were evaluated in 11 human pancreatic cell lines. Type-I IFN receptor expression was determined on both the mRNA and protein level. After 7 days of incubation, IFN-α significantly reduced cell growth in eight cell lines by 5–67%. IFN-β inhibited cell growth statistically significant in all cell lines by 43–100%. After 3 days of treatment, IFN-β induced significantly more apoptosis than IFN-α. The cell lines variably expressed the type-I IFN receptor. The maximal inhibitory effect of IFN-α was positively correlated with the IFNAR-1 mRNA (P < 0.05, r = 0.63), IFNAR-2c mRNA (P < 0.05, r = 0.69) and protein expression (P < 0.05, r = 0.65). Human pancreatic cancer cell lines variably respond to IFN-α and -β. The expression level of the type-I IFN receptor is of predictive value for the direct anti-tumour effects of IFN-α treatment. More importantly, IFN-β induces anti-tumour effects already at much lower concentrations, is less dependent on interferon receptor expression and seems, therefore, more promising than IFN-α.