‘Top-of-the-line’ linear accelerator arrives

Sequim Gazette

Workers are busy installing a new $2.7 million Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator at the Thomas Family Cancer Center in Sequim. When the Olympic Medical Center board approved the purchase of the accelerator in September 2010, board member John Nutter, a former finance director for the center, called the purchase “probably our biggest single capital expenditure in many years.”

Jim Chavira (front) and James Fee of H&H Installation Services unpack the gantry of the new Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator. The $2.7 million machine, now being installed in the Thomas Family Cancer Center in Sequim, will provide state-of-the-art cancer treatment when it goes online in early April. Sequim Gazette photo by Mark Couhig

The new equipment, which treats cancer with bursts of radiation, is the “top-of-the-line,” said Mike Harral, a construction project manager for Varian. He said the new unit has “more capabilities than any other out there.”

The accelerator, which weighs 21,000 pounds, was trucked from California in a climate-controlled moving van. It’s being installed in its new vault, recently built by the Olympic Medical Cancer Center to house the machine. Harral said the vault is designed to ensure that radiation created by the linear accelerator can’t escape. The wall toward which the beam is pointed is solid concrete, 7 feet thick.

Harral provided a layman’s description of the accelerator’s function, saying it “takes electricity and bumps it up to a pulse.” The unit runs on just “480 volts — 80 amps,” but this is multiplied by the accelerator, with the resulting energy transformed to microwaves. That in turn accelerates particles to “just under the speed of light. The particles crash into a metal plate, creating radiation.”

The rest of the equipment is used to “shape the radiation … minimizing the dosage to healthy tissue and maximizing the dose to the tumor.”

Harral said the TrueBeam first was introduced in April 2010.

Testing and retesting

Once in place, the accelerator will undergo an extensive shakedown, including six weeks of testing by a medical physicist.

Mark Armendariz, a Varian Medical Systems installer and calibrator, said the resulting data will be used for “commissioning” of the equipment by the state.

The new linear accelerator should be treating patients by early April.

Rhonda Curry, assistant administrator of the strategic development department, said, “This new technology will replace our eight-year-old linear accelerator with the newest generation of radiotherapy technology. That will better enable us to treat cancer more precisely.”



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