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New radiation machine goes online in Keene

Union Leader Correspondent

January 26. 2013 7:23PM
Joy Fike-MacLeod, chief radiation therapist at Cheshire Medical Center-Dartmouth Hitchcock Keene, practices maneuvering the new Varian TrueBeam Linear Accelerator on Monday. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)

KEENE - The newest technology in radiation oncology is available for the first time in New Hampshire at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Kingsbury Pavilion at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene.

The Kingsbury Pavilion's Varian TrueBeam Linear Accelerator went live Monday afternoon as the center's radiation therapist began treating patients on the new machine.

A linear accelerator is the machine that generates radiation to treat cancer patients. The Varian TrueBeam is replacing a 10-year-old Varian linear accelerator machine. The project cost was $5 million and took two years of planning. The cost included renting another linear accelerator to be available on site while the older machine was removed from the vault and the TrueBeam was installed and tested first by Varian staff and then by Kingsbury Pavilion staff.

"Even in financially challenging times, we knew we needed to look to the future and proactively plan for how we were going to care for our cancer patients," said Art Nichols, president and CEO of Cheshire Medical Center, in a statement. "The timing of this planned replacement and upgrade isn't ideal for the hospital, but we knew we must ensure uninterrupted care for the cancer patients that rely on us for their radiation treatments."

The cancer center has the most highly utilized linear accelerator in the state, said Jennifer Michelson, director of the Kingsbury Pavilion.

Last year the center treated 454 patients in 7,959 treatments. Patients from more than 65 communities in the greater Monadnock region and southwestern New Hampshire, southeastern Vermont and north central Massachusetts come to the Kingsbury Pavilion for radiation therapy.

The new linear accelerator has many benefits for patients, Michelson said.

"It delivers (the radiation treatment) faster, with a smaller dose and fewer side effects," she said.

It should shorten the length of radiation treatment visits by about 25 percent by reducing the amount of time the patient has to lie still.

"Basically when you are having radiation you have to hold still that entire time even when the beam is not on. You'll be laying in position; the machine will be turning and moving. So you may lie on a hard table for 20 minutes, and so this reduces a good portion of that time."

This also means less exposure to radiation overall, she said. "It delivers the radiation therapy about 50 percent faster than the older model machine," Michelson said. "It delivers it at a different rate of speed so you can use less of it and get less side effects."

The machine also has three imagers for pinpointing where the treatment needs to go.

"We had one type of image before. Now we have three imagers so we have an increased ability to be more accurate with our dose. The more accurate with our dose, the less side-effects you have and the better the outcomes," Michelson said.

Side effects include skin reactions, fatigue and others depending on the site of radiation treatment. A person who has treatment in the stomach area will experience nausea, Michelson said.

The new linear accelerator has also opened the possibility of more advanced treatments such as radio surgery and rapid art, an even faster radiation treatment.

"We may determine that we want to deliver care in a faster manner that reduces the number of visits that a patient has to have. None of that is current, but that is something that the machine may allow us to do once we are established with the machine," Michelson said.

The Kingsbury Pavilion in Keene is one of three regional locations of the Lebanon-based Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute comprehensive cancer center.

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