A combination of radiation therapy and surgery can reduce the recurrence of melanomas that have spread to lymph nodes, a 17-year medical study has found.

Melanoma patients who require lymph node surgery normally have a high risk of recurrence and the radiation therapy reduces the chance of the disease coming back from 32% to less than 18%, according to a study by Australia’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.

Recurrence of melanoma in the lymph nodes can be extremely disabling with swelling of the arm (lymphedema), fungation, bleeding, discharge and pain, study said.

Princess Alexandra Hospital Radiation Oncology trial director professor Bryan Burmeister said the study had shown a course of radiation therapy after a patient has undergone surgery significantly reduces the recurrence of the disease.

“Improved treatment is about effective prevention of this recurrence through radiation five days a week for four weeks, which is not difficult or painful for the patient,” Burmeister said.

The study was conducted in three phases and focused mainly on Queensland, which has the highest rate of melanoma in the world.

Initial results highlighted reduced recurrence and limited side effects and Phase II, involving 234 patients from eight centres ,showed the recurrence of the disease was less than 15% in patients who received radiation therapy.

The Phase III study compared 250 patients from 16 centres with lymph node disease having surgery alone with those who had surgery and radiation therapy, and showed a reduction from 32% to 18% recurrence with the addition of radiation therapy.