Health IT

New high-tech machine attacks cancer at all angles by reducing the radiation field

pancreatic cancer

N.D.–Patients will benefit from improved treatment for cancer and other conditions with the use of new high-tech equipment that more precisely targets cancerous tumors, according to Dr. Grant R. Seeger, radiation oncologist at the Altru Cancer Center in Grand Forks.

The linear accelerator, valued at $3 million, was moved into the building’s basement on Wednesday.

The machine, known as an “Elekta Infinity with agility head,” reduces the size of the radiation field, allowing doctors to point cancer-killing radiation directly at cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue, Seeger said.


In the past, doctors would aim radiation beams at a bigger area “so we wouldn’t miss any” of the cancer, he said.

In the quest to destroy tumors, the death of nearby healthy cells is a potentially debilitating consequence, said Aaron Kempenich, radiation safety officer and a physicist in the Altru’s oncology department.

The new equipment “allows us to steer the radiation exposure much better,” Kempenich said. Greater control of the radiation “spares the healthy tissue from being affected and allows it to function as normal.”

In the past, for example, in the treatment of tongue cancer, “we couldn’t avoid the saliva glands,” resulting in negative side effects for the patient, Kempenich said.

Some tumors — such as those in the diaphragm, liver, kidney and lower parts of the lung — move as the patient breathes, Seeger said. The new equipment can be programmed to deliver the radiation at the correct moment.

“The beam turns on and off,” Seeger said. It will turn on only when the tumor is in the correct position to receive radiation.

The equipment will also reduce individual treatment time for patients from seven to 15 minutes down to two or three minutes, Seeger said, allowing more patients to be treated and making it much more comfortable for patients who have difficulty lying flat on their backs.

Those with lung or head and neck cancers can experience “a build-up of secretions that makes them feel they are struggling for air,” he said.

The new machine will move around the patient, in “an almost 360-degree attack approach,” Kempenich said.

It will also be used to prevent re-growth of bone after hip replacement surgery, said Nancy Klatt, manager of the cancer center.

“We need to keep reinvesting in new technology for the community and to continue to provide a high level of service locally,” she said.

It replaces an older-model linear accelerator, she said. “This is the second linear accelerator that we have replaced.”

The new linear accelerator is expected to be operational in late-April, Kempenich said.

“It will take six weeks to install and four to six weeks to calibrate it,” he said.

Knudson covers health and family. Call her at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572 ext.1107 or email [email protected] ___

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