NH cancer patient describes radiation therapy at Seacoast Cancer Center


As I walked into the treatment room to begin seven weeks of radiation, I saw a sign that read “Linear Accelerator.” What was that I wondered?

This was to be my second time receiving radiation after cancer surgery. The first time was in 1992 when New Hampshire had only a few places to receive the treatment, so my Brigham and Women’s surgeon set me up in Boston. I went from the New Hampshire Seacoast five days a week for five weeks. A high energy X-ray machine was used to beam radiation into my groin and a shield was placed to protect those parts of me that didn’t need treatment. I was to learn nearly 30 years later that the shield was not exactly protective, but that’s another story.

Wentworth-Douglass Hospital has three state-of-the-art linear accelerators, two in Dover and another at the Seacoast Cancer Center at Pease where I was to be treated after a tumor was removed from my right thigh.

Peter Randall, a longtime Seacoast resident, publisher and photographer, undergoes treatment at the Seacoast Cancer Center at Pease, which is run by Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.

The linear accelerator, often called linac, accelerates charged subatomic particles to a high speed along a linear beamline. Among other applications, linac generates X-rays and high energy electrons for radiation treatment.

I met first with radiation oncologist Dr. Andy Singh who explained the need for radiation and the process for delivering the treatment. Unlike some medical procedures, radiation is different because cancer cells are microscopic and can’t be seen. To determine the treatment area, the doctor looked at x-rays, CTs, and MRIs and consulted with surgeon Dr. Chan Raut at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In my case, the surgeon removed a large liposarcoma tumor from my thigh. I already had a disabled leg from my earlier surgery, so Dr. Raut was concerned that removing too much tissue and risk cutting nerves that might disable the right leg, too. Ordinarily he would cut onto the margin area, beyond the visible edges of the tumor, to remove as much of the cancer as possible. The radiation would have to include the margin areas, too.

Peter Randall

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Radiation oncologist Dr. Andy Singh and radiation nurse Michelle Carr in the CT room where a patient’s treatment is planned at the Seacoast Cancer Center at Pease.

Preparing for treatment

Next, I was taken into a testing room where I had another CT, this one to prepare a three- dimensional picture of the exact treatment area and areas to avoid radiating. This information was fed into the linac along with details about the shape of the radiation beam and the angle/s at which the radiation would be delivered. I was to lay on a platform that moved under the linac. The machine’s head could and did move around the platform. I received three tiny tattoo dots that the machine would use to orient itself in the proper position for my treatment. The placement of the radiation beam is accurate to one millimeter, so my leg had to be in the exact position each time I was treated. Based on the CT, my leg was moved into a position atop a customized vacuum bag creating a form. It was placed under my leg for each treatment.

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