How a Linear Accelerator Works: An Overview

MLC at Acceletronics

For more than 60 years, linear accelerators have been used in the fight against cancer by delivering radiation in focused beams to specific areas of the human body. These complex machines are used all over the world everyday to help patients beat cancer.

But what is a linear accelerator? Acceletronics has been servicing and supporting linear accelerators for more than three decades, and we have watched them change and evolve to the important and life-saving machines they are today.

Here’s a quick look at how a linear accelerator works:

Ready, set, go.  A magnetron (or a Klystron) sends in radio waves to the wave guide, the long tube of the linear accelerator that acts similar to a gun barrel. At the same time, electrons are inserted into the wave guide through the electron gun. The waves propel the electrons at speeds near the speed of light.

A powerful impact. At the end of the tube is a target made of metal, usually tungsten and copper. When the electrons hit the target, the resulting impact sends off high energy X-rays. The X-rays race into the head of the machine, which can be aimed at any area of the patient.

Exceptional targeting. The head of the machine now needs to focus those fast-moving X-rays. Metal fins (called leaves) located in a Multi-Leaf Collimator, are adjusted into the shape of the tumor to shape the beam to the correct size and shape.  Using laser guidance as a reference, the Radiotherapy Technician (RTT) sets up the Linear Accelerator parameters to the patient and turns on the linear accelerator.   X-rays strike only the targeted area to prevent the patient from receiving unnecessary radiation to healthy tissue.

DNA damage. The radiation hits the tumor and damages it at a cellular level, causing it to shrink or even be destroyed. The accelerator technician controls the dose of radiation to make sure the exact amount of radiation is used.

Acceletronics is proud to be a part of the fight against cancer. Our skilled technicians are experts in all linear accelerators, including Varian® models. Our customers know they won’t wait long for service. We have technicians less than four hours away from two-thirds of the radiation oncology centers in the United States. You can learn more about us and the services we provide by calling us at 1-800-543-5144 or emailing us at

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