Linear accelerator machines, LINAC for short, are used to generate radiation in the form of high energy x-rays. The LINAC systems general purpose is to deliver radiation in a direct, concentrated form. They target cancer treatment specifically to the tumor without damaging the healthy tissues that surround the tumor. Modifications can be done to the machine for it to be used in radio surgery and IMRT, intensity modulated radiation therapy.
Linear accelerator equipment can be dedicated or non-dedicated. A dedicated LINAC machine is one that has additional equipment attached permanently that allows it to perform higher levels of radiation treatments. This is the method that most radiation oncologists prefer to use. A non-dedicated LINAC machine is one that can be used for conventional radiation therapy and converted to allow higher levels of treatment. A non-dedicated LINAC system does not offer the same degree of accuracy in treatment that a dedicated linear accelerator does.
Radio surgery can be performed with linear accelerator machines. Radio surgery involves a surgical procedure that neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists perform together. This procedure often takes an entire day to perform. The whole procedure involved immobilization, scanning, planning and the actual surgical procedure itself. The amount of radiation given in one dose of radio surgery is less than the amount that would be given in traditional radiation therapy. The tumor that is being treated is given a much higher one time dose in radiation surgery whereas radiation therapy offers smaller doses more often.
The lower does in radiation therapy is important because of the number of times the healthy tissue surrounding the cancerous tumor is exposed to. The side effects of too much radiation exposure on healthy cells can be permanent and incredibly dangerous. Lower dose radiation therapy can result in poorer outcomes due to lower tumor control than what is seen in the higher single dose given during radio surgery.
More often than not the technology used in LINAC machines is best utilized in sessions over a period of time. This is done to allow as little damage as possible to occur to the healthy tissues. In between treatments the healthy tissue is allowed to heal and repair itself while the cancerous tumor shrinks and essentially dies. The amount of radiation given over time may be more than that of radio surgery with this technique. Is important to note that only your oncologist can say which treatment option is better for you cancer and unique situation.
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