LAKE SUCCESS - Scientists in the U.K. and Spain say they've developed an early detection test for one of the most lethal forms of cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is often called the silent disease because the signs and symptoms can go unnoticed until the cancer is in its advanced stages.

There is no cure, and experts say that only 7 percent of patients in the U.S. are still alive five years after being diagnosed. "It's probably the most devastating diagnosis you could have as a cancer patient," says Dr. James D'Olimpia, of the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute in Lake Success.

But researchers say a urine test may provide early detection for patients at risk for the disease. The biomarker test looks for certain proteins that have been identified over several years of studies.

The scientists looked at about 500 urine samples from patients with pancreatic cancer, patients with chronic pancreatitis and healthy volunteers to identify the proteins.

Scientists say the test may prove to be a breakthrough in detecting a disease with a prognosis that is almost always bleak. "We might be able to save many patients this way, sort of like mammography," D'Olimpia says.

Experts say people at risk for pancreatic cancer include patients who are obese, people who smoke, those who have a family history of the disease, and those older than 50 who have been newly diagnosed with diabetes.