BENNINGTON — In an effort to make patients more comfortable, and to deliver efficient, quality care, the Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center (SVRCC) is investing in a $4 million linear accelerator, also known as linac.
The linac puts out external beam radiation to treat cancer patients, specifically those with breast, lung and prostate cancer, according to Radiation Oncologist Matthew Vernon. The upgraded technology will make treatment faster, from a half hour down to five minutes, and more targeted on the tumor. For example, when delivering radiation to a left breast, it's important to get only the tumor and avoid neighboring organs, like the heart.
"Sometimes it's hard for a patient to stay in one spot for a certain amount of time because of their pain," Vernon said. "There's less toxicity and long-term side effects."
With lung cancer and the amount of heavy smokers in Bennington County, Vernon said, the linac will be able to detect stage one cases more often without finding it down the road and receiving surgery.
The linac will use Vision RT, which is a laser system and camera arrays, and Cone Beam Computed Tomography (CBCT), or on-board imaging capability to track the progress of photos and a tumor's position moves internally. With this capability, radiation isn't hitting healthy tissue and other treatment can be prescribed to a smaller area.
"It moves quickly," Vernon explained. "The main difference isn't in the delivery as much as it is in the on-board imaging and getting the patient in a reproducible position every day and delivering the same radiation."
Another aspect of the linac includes a breathing detector to locate the tumor during a breath, also reducing radiation exposure to healthy tissue. It also uses Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT) which helps treat a tumor from various angles by rotating during treatment and taking shape to the patient's body. This feature reduces the amount of time a patient is treated.
Lastly, Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) is the one to nail stage one lung cancer for patients who'd prefer to avert surgery and rather take on three to five treatment sessions. The linac will also be designed with natural materials and light.
"For heavy smokers, we'll treat with a higher dose of radiation to smaller areas without cutting them open," Vernon said. "It's well established for lung and liver cancer."
It will be of use in early April, according to a release from SVMC, and funding is made possible by philanthropic contributions, which will be announced near completion.
"It will be much better than the old one," Vernon said. "The number of cancers we can treat isn't changing, just the way we treat them. Delivering treatment three times fast is huge."
The new linac is replacing one that existed, but after 10 years, Vernon said, technology must be enhanced. Most of the procedures will remain the same, the only difference with breast cancer is the ability to examine the left side, with lung cancer and prostate cancer, the use of the VMAT and on-board imaging will boost the process and comfort the receiver more.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.