For years, linear accelerator technology has had to be encased in concrete walls 3 to 4 feet thick so as to protect people on the outside from exposure to radiation. For patients and case technicians, this has meant walking through a series of corridors to get to and from the delivery equipment. It has also meant going down to the basement levels of treatment facilities, which tend to add gloom to the cancer experience.
Veritas Medical Solutions, of Harleysville, PA, is marketing what it calls a series of firsts in linear accelerator room design. These include windows to the outside world, so that patients are bathed in natural light when they enter the rooms and have a pleasant and reassuring natural scene of grass, shrubs, or trees to look at as they are readied for treatment, and doors that allow direct access to the treatment room rather than the long walk around corners and through heavily shielded corridors.
“This will become the norm, I believe, because for years we’ve worked with architects, and their main focus is to bring light into these rooms, so this is a benefit and a success in that realm,” predicts Robert Farrell, co-founder and executive vice president of Veritas, which specializes in radiation shielding and facility design.
The company has completed a few of these rooms already and says that the level of interest expressed by the oncology community in the United States and abroad has been very strong. They are doing nine projects of this type for one large cancer center in the United States, and other projects are on order. Groups in the United Kingdom have shown keen interest also, Farrell said.
The windowed rooms function with a moveable shielding technology that slides a radiation-proof wall in front of the window during actual treatment. Farrell says that an image of natural scenery can be projected onto the wall while it is in place so as to replace the view. For the sake of patient comfort and modesty, the windows can be one-way glass so that nobody can look in; outside the facility, walls or courtyards can be constructed for additional visual separation. Those partitioned external areas can be landscaped, or they can simply function as light “wells,” Farrell said.
Such features are currently being incorporated into a window-equipped treatment room that would otherwise face a trash collection area, Farrell said. “What we have come up with is putting up a wall that would block those dumpsters. Natural light can come in from the outside, and we’ll put a garden out there, too.”
Veritas has a patented radiation shield material that allows for thinner wall design and therefore makes the installation of these rooms possible in places where they were impractical because of the heavy concrete and rebar casing that was required. The company’s VeriShield walls can do the job of concrete shielding that is 3 times thicker, so a 1-foot-thick VeriShield wall could substitute for a 3-foot-thick concrete wall, Farrell said.
The company is also proud of its “bi-parting” doors, which allow direct access to treatment rooms and interlock with a wave-like design that seals against the threat of radiation leakage. “The big thing you have to be worried about is straight-line seams, because radiation is subatomic and can travel right through things that you would not think are that big a deal. But they are a big deal once you get your radiation detector out, so it’s of prime importance that these straight line seams are eliminated. We get those doors to interlock in such a way that there are no straight line seams, and it’s a full and complete shield. That’s probably one of the biggest innovations,” Farrell said.
There are many plusses associated with direct access, he added. Patients who suffer from poor eyesight or dizziness won’t have to do as much walking; and case technicians will avoid having to move around as much as they do now in traditionally designed treatment centers. “In a year’s time, the case technician is walking the equivalent of the distance from London to Liverpool [178 miles] by walking through those mazes, so it’s a lot of time.” The company has created an interactive time model that shows an animated human figure taking 45.88 seconds to get through corridors of a traditional treatment room, versus 19 seconds to travel into a Veritas room (Illustration
In addition, the biparting doors open in as little as 4 seconds, as opposed to 25 to 40 seconds for equivalent doors that are traditionally designed. The time that is saved contributes to workplace productivity, and the cost of these installations is not different from what traditional facilities cost, Farrell says. He said a window room for a 6MV linear accelerator in a 400sf2 space would start around $400,000. On the high end, housing for an 18MV accelerator in a 600sf2 space would be as much as $800,000.