Aim: To evaluate lesion contrast in pancreatic adenocarcinoma patients using spectral multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) analysis. Materials and methods: The present institutional review board-approved, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)-compliant retrospective study evaluated 64 consecutive adults with pancreatic adenocarcinoma examined using a standardized, multiphasic protocol on a single-source, dual-energy MDCT system. Pancreatic phase images (35 s) were acquired in dual-energy mode; unenhanced and portal venous phases used standard MDCT. Lesion contrast was evaluated on an independent workstation using dual-energy analysis software, comparing tumour to non-tumoural pancreas attenuation (HU) differences and tumour diameter at three energy levels: 70 keV; individual subject-optimized viewing energy level (based on the maximum contrast-to-noise ratio, CNR); and 45 keV. The image noise was measured for the same three energies. Differences in lesion contrast, diameter, and noise between the different energy levels were analysed using analysis of variance (ANOVA). Quantitative differences in contrast gain between 70 keV and CNR-optimized viewing energies, and between CNR-optimized and 45 keV were compared using the paired t-test. Results: Thirty-four women and 30 men (mean age 68 years) had a mean tumour diameter of 3.6 cm. The median optimized energy level was 50 keV (range 40-77). The mean ± SD lesion contrast values (non-tumoural pancreas-tumour attenuation) were: 57 ± 29, 115 ± 70, and 146 ± 74 HU (p = 0.0005); the lengths of the tumours were: 3.6, 3.3, and 3.1 cm, respectively (p = 0.026); and the contrast to noise ratios were: 24 ± 7, 39 ± 12, and 59 ± 17 (p = 0.0005) for 70 keV, the optimized energy level, and 45 keV, respectively. For individuals, the mean ± SD contrast gain from 70 keV to the optimized energy level was 59 ± 45 HU; and the mean ± SD contrast gain from the optimized energy level to 45 keV was 31 ± 25 HU (p = 0.007). Conclusion: Significantly increased pancreatic lesion contrast was noted at lower viewing energies using spectral MDCT. Individual patient CNR-optimized energy level images have the potential to improve lesion conspicuity. © 2012 The Royal College of Radiologists. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.