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Ask Matt ... about newest cancer fighting weapon

Elekta Infinity Elekta Infinity

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Q. I read that Pardee Hospital is getting a new linear accelerator. How does that work and what does it cost?

A linear accelerator is a precision medical device that is used to treat cancer patients. Technically, it doesn’t really “kill” cancer cells; rather it does something to them that keeps them from reproducing. I learned this and a whole lot more from Tom Dellinger, Pardee’s medical physicist at the Kayden Radiation Oncology Center, who knows a lot about linear accelerators — particularly the one we’re getting. Dellinger handed me a shiny brochure similar to what you might find in a new car showroom. It featured a model called the Elekta Infinity. Eleckta is a Swedish firm but the Infinity is made in the UK and it costs about $2 million.
Here’s how it works. The patient lies prone under the linear accelerator. After the cancer is located and properly marked, the machine rotates and zaps the pesky cancer cells. The size of the tumor dictates the radiation dosage level and how many repetitions (in days) prescribed by the radiation oncologist. Two or three trained therapists operate the machine behind a six-foot thick concrete wall.
So is there anything wrong with Pardee’s current model? No, except that it’s 11 years old and approaching its useful life. Dellinger gave three major benefits of upgrading to the Infinity model. First, the new machine operates with tighter margins on the patient’s cancerous tumor, like pitching to a smaller strike zone. Margins are critical when the tumor is close to other organs. Secondly, the Infinity can fire out doses of radiation faster, a big plus for patient comfort as the treatment often puts the patient in a contorted position. A typical daily radiation treatment for prostate cancer can take 15 to 20 minutes. The Infinity can do the job in less than five, plus it has a robotic table that delivers pinpoint positioning of the patient under the machine. The third benefit is accuracy. The new model has state-of-the-art 3D imaging so the affected area can be seen before treated.
The new linear accelerator will make its home on the first floor of the new Health Sciences Center on Sixth Avenue West across from the YMCA. The building will open for BRCC nursing students in August. Dellinger said that when Pardee Hospital has the linear accelerator installed and operational later this year, it will be the newest in WNC and one of the most advanced in the state, rivaling machines in Winston-Salem and Charlotte. So until Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot program turns things around, I suspect that the Elekta Infinity will remain our local weapon of choice.