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    Linear Accelerator:

    A linear accelerator, more commonly called a “LINAC”, is a machine that produces man made radiation, and is commonly used for external beam radiation treatment for cancer patients. The LINAC delivers a uniform dose of high energy radiation to the cancerous tissue, and can be used to treat all parts of the human body. The radiation can destroy cancer cells while sparing the surrounding normal tissue. The patient lies on a “couch”, which gets positioned precisely for each treatment, minimizing the risk to healthy tissue.

    The linear accelerator uses microwave technology to accelerate electrons. The electrons then collide with a heavy metal target which produces high energy x-rays. The x-rays are directed to the patient’s tumor, and shaped by the LINAC to conform to the shape of the tumor. The radiation beam is shaped by either “blocks” placed in the head of the LINAC, or by a multileaf collimator. This beam exits the LINAC through the gantry, which rotates around the patient. The patient is positioned on a movable treatment couch and lasers are used to verify that the patient is in the proper position for treatment. Radiation can be delivered from any angle, by rotating the gantry and moving the treatment couch.

    The Radiation Oncologist prescribes the appropriate treatment dosage and volume. The Dosimetrist then calculates the treatment plan and determines how to best deliver the prescribed dosage and the amount of radiation the machine has to produce to deliver that dose. The plan is then tested for quality assurance by the Medical Radiation Physicist. Only then is the patient scheduled for their daily radiation treatments, which are administered by the Radiation Therapists.

    The patients’ safety is of the upmost importance. During each treatment the patient is continuously monitored by the Radiation Therapist, via a closed-circuit television monitor. The treatment room is also equipped with a microphone so that the patient can speak to the Therapist at any time during treatment.

    The LINAC is located in a room, called the Vault, which has steel and concrete walls to shield the high energy radiation. The accelerator only gives off radiation when on, so risk of accidental exposure is very low. The LINAC has internal checking systems in place that will not allow it to turn on until all the treatment requirements prescribed by the Radiation Oncologist have been met. The accelerator also has controls in place that will not allow it to deliver a higher dose than prescribed. Quality assurance checks are run each day by the Radiation Therapist to ensure that the LINAC is running properly. Additionally, the Medical Radiation Physicist performs more detailed weekly, monthly and annual quality assurance checks, to further ensure the proper performance of the accelerator.

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