A massive construction project under way at the Essentia Health-South University Clinic is aimed at helping cancer patients in a revolutionary way. Essentia Health invested $4.5 million to purchase a Versa HD linear accelerator.
"This particular machine is the first of its kind in North Dakota," says Brie Corfman, director of the Essentia Health Cancer Center, which is located in the clinic. "It allows us to treat the patient more quickly and precisely."
A linear accelerator is an advanced machine used to deliver high doses of radiation to patients with cancerous tumors. "Think of it like a very precise, intense laser that can be focused in many different angles to shrink tumors," Corfman says. "The Versa HD allows us to avoid damaging critical organs, such as the spinal cord or eyes, which can be easily damaged with exposure to radiation."
Installing a linear accelerator is no easy task. Since the gantry drum alone weighs 4,706 pounds, crews shimmied it down an elevator shaft using a series of platforms that were removed bit-by-bit. Once in the clinic's lower level, it was rolled down the hallway and into a massive concrete room known as the vault.
"Special room modifications including removing the old concrete floor to increase the thickness for the weight of the new machine had to occur," says Corfman. "Plus, to keep the radiation safely inside the room to protect our patients and the public, we had to install 3-foot thick concrete walls and a special locking door."
It may sound like a lot of work and money, but the rewards will certainly pay off for Essentia Health cancer patients. With less advanced linear accelerators, patients have to lie perfectly still for 30 to 45 minutes five times a week for up to seven weeks. This new technology can deliver the same amount of radiation in a fraction of the time, in as little as five minutes, so patients make fewer trips to the clinic.
There's another benefit for patients, who are already struggling with the rigors of radiation treatment. "It reduces the discomfort for patients, can reduce the likelihood of experiencing side effects, and saves on their travel costs," says Corfman. "Many patients live several hours away and travel for treatments every day. This new Versa HD will help minimize the amount of time patients have to be away from their home and family, and that's crucial in the cancer-fighting battle."
Installation continues for the next eight weeks as technicians calibrate and test the Versa HD. The Cancer Center expects to treat its first patients the week of June 25.