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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » February 23, 2012
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Photon Needle to Help Treat Breast Cancer
February 23, 2012   
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The second generation of photon needles—miniature medical accelerators that produce X-rays—is being developed as part of a project under way at the National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) in ¦wierk near Warsaw. The device can be used during surgery on breast cancer patients to kill cancer cells that might remain after tumor surgery.

For many breast cancer patients, tumor surgery does not mean that their problems will end. Usually a several-week-long course of conventional radiotherapy treatment must follow surgery to decrease the risk of relapse. The photon needle X-ray generator can be applied on an intra-operative basis, so that postoperative radiation treatment can be avoided, at least in some cases. “The lifetime of our generator may be estimated at over 10,000 hours. It is a very good result compared with other equipment available on the market,” says Piotr Mazerewicz, an engineer at the NCBJ.

The photon needle is referred to as an Electronic X-ray Source for Brachytherapy (ESB). Brachytherapy is radiotherapy using sources inserted into the targeted tumors. Once a breast tumor is removed, the surgeon inserts the tip of the photon needle into the postoperative cavity. The entire device is small enough to be mounted on a convenient operating device than can be freely moved and locked in position by the surgeon. The medical staff leave the operating room for the radiation procedure, which lasts about 20 minutes. The procedure is constantly monitored by a computer and can be controlled remotely during the entire radiation session. After that the surgical site is stitched, and the patient can be discharged the next day.

The photon needle is an electron accelerator in which electrons accelerated in an electric field of about 50,000 volts are directed into a tube that is less than 20 centimeters long and 6 mm in diameter. The tube ends with a silver-plated beryllium cap, whose center is the target point for the beam. Electrons suddenly decelerated by atoms of silver generate X-rays. The radiation is emitted nearly isotropically, which means evenly at all angles around the point of origin. Homogenous and isotropic distribution of the emitted radiation around the device tip helps the physician to precisely plan the radiation session”.

“The electron beam is less than 1 millimeter in diameter. To keep it exactly on target, the photon needle is provided with some features that prevent the beam from being shifted off target by even such subtle effects as a change of the Earth’s magnetic field inside the tube resulting in a change in the device’s position,” says the NCBJ’s Prof. Mieczysław Słapa. Should any of the device’s operating parameters exceed its permissible range, special safeguards will automatically turn the device off. The small size of the device is an added advantage.

The photon needle has been developed as part of the Accelerators & Detectors project co-financed by the EU under its Innovative Economy Operational Program. One of the main objectives of the project is to construct demonstration models of various types of medical accelerators for cancer radiotherapy. The total budget of the project, which began in 2008 and is scheduled to end in 2013, is zl.85.6 million, including zl.67.5 million in EU funds.
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