The linear accelerator has come a long way since its inception in 1956. Today, these machines can be found in most hospitals and are a necessity for radiation therapy treatments for cancer patients around the world. Originally used by physicists on the Stanford University campus, Henry Kaplan, MD, had the goal of turning the linear accelerator into a cancer fighting machine.
Mainly used to produce radiation to treat cancer, the medical device has a number of other medical uses including correcting certain neurological and cardiovascular disorders, putting an end to rejection of organ transplants and suppressing the immune system after blood and bone marrow transplants.
Henry Kaplan, his colleague Edward Ginzton and the Varian brothers were the first to start building a medical linear accelerator after Kaplan believed he could find a way to destroy a tumor using an x-ray machine. The first medical linear accelerator was installed at Stanford Hospital in San Francisco in 1956. The machine was used not only to treat cancer but to also help students and teachers develop a deeper understanding of how the linear accelerator worked. Linear accelerators also have two or three energies of X-rays and up to seven energies of electrons, which allows it to generate high levels of radiation for therapy sessions. This approach to cancer treatment gives doctors a pragmatic way of attacking a tumor and treating cancer.
After the first linear accelerator was created at Stanford, a second was developed that could track the position of a tumor during treatment. This incredible innovation allowed physicians to deliver larger doses of radiation to the tumor without the risk of destroying the vital tissues and organs surrounding it. The new linear accelerator system underwent multiple trials to help medical professionals learn new ways to use radiotherapy. Researchers have studied other sources of radiation to learn more about cancer treatment. Studies are continuously being conducted to improve linear accelerators and help win the longstanding battle against cancer.
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