Scientists have developed a new test for pancreatic cancer, via a urine test which will detect the disease much earlier than what is presently obtainable.

UK and Spanish scientists who were involved in the research found a protein "signature" only present in people with the disease, and the group hopes that when the disease is diagnosed earlier, treatment could be offered thus improving survival chances.

The study, which was published in the journal, Clinical Cancer Research, has been applauded by several cancer charities, with the groups saying a test was "much needed".

Over 500 urine samples were studied in the course of the study, and just under 200 were from patients with pancreatic cancer, 92 were from patients with chronic pancreatitis and 87 from healthy volunteers.

The rest of the samples were from patients with benign and cancerous liver and gall bladder conditions.

Out of 1,500 proteins found in the urine samples, three - LYVE1, REG1A and TFF1 - were seen to be at much higher levels in the pancreatic cancer patients, providing a "protein signature" that could identify the most common form of the disease.

The signature was found to be 90% accurate.

Patients with chronic pancreatitis were found to have lower levels of the same three proteins.

There are now plans to conduct more research where scientists will focus particularly on people whose genes put them at particular risk of pancreatic cancer.

Over 80% of people with the disease are diagnosed when it has already spread, so they are not eligible for surgery to remove the tumour, which is currently the only potential cure.

Those at higher risk include people with a family history of the cancer, heavy smokers, obese people and people over 50 who are newly diagnosed with diabetes.

Study co-author, Prof Nick Lemoine of the Barts Cancer Institute described the find as 'really exciting because for the first time we might be able to bring forward the window of opportunity for patients with pancreatic cancer - from something that is advanced and late stage to something that is early stage and potentially curable by surgery'

He further stated ''that patients are usually diagnosed when the cancer is already at a terminal stage, but if diagnosed at stage 2, the survival rate is 20%, and at stage 1, the survival rate for patients with very small tumours can increase up to 60%."

Also speaking on the development, Fiona Osgun, of Cancer Research UK, pointed out that while science was a long way from knowing if this research could lead to a test that would help detect pancreatic cancer at an early stage, or who that test might benefit, research like this is vital as there's been little progress in improving survival for pancreatic cancer.