Constructing a creative approach to Radiation Therapy,  Linacs and Immobilisation Masks. 
 

Constructing a creative approach to Radiation Therapy,  Linacs and Immobilisation Masks. 

 
What is Radiation Therapy?
 
Radiation therapy, or Radiotherapy, uses X-rays to destroy cancer cells so they cannot multiply. It can be used before surgery to shrink the tumour and make it easier to remove, or after it to destroy any remaining cancer cells, or even as the primary treatment if surgery is not a good option. Radiation therapy is normally delivered by a Linear Accelerator, or Linac. 

What is a Linac?
 
A medical linear accelerator (Linac) uses X-rays or electrons to deliver radiation to a tumour in order to destroy cancer cells while sparing surrounding normal tissue. The machine itself targets cancerous cells as they are more sensitive to radiation than normal cells. Its ability to concentrate the radiation to any shape or small area ensures limited damage to surrounding tissue. Because of this it is vital that the patient stays in one place during treatment, and with each session the exact same part of the body is targeted. The way to ensure this in the case of head and neck cancer is with an immobilisation mask. 
 
Why use Immobilisation Masks?
 
Immobilisation masks are made from plastic mesh so it is easy for a patient to breathe and communicate. After heating in a warm bath to soften, the mask is moulded to your face. It feels a little like having a warm towel draped over your head. After a few minutes it begins to harden again, allowing it to hold your head in place. The mask is then fixed to the treatment table to ensure that the radiation is always accurately delivered to the same spot. Clinicians can draw directly on the mask if necessary to help pinpoint the radiation beam. To learn more about immobilisation masks click here

You can take the mask home when treatment is over and some centres even encourage you to turn it into a work of art as part of your recovery. To learn more about transforming radiotherapy masks into works of art watch Bravery Unmasked, an ABC Facebook Video. 
 
Why build a Linac model?
 
Art and creativity is a great way to offset the stress and anxiety people experience during any medical procedure. The Little Linac project was started by Professor David Brettle, when he was President of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) in York, England. His vision is to provide every child undergoing radiotherapy in the UK a free model kit of a Linac. As well as the linac, the kit also makes three other imaging or treatment machines the child may encounter during their time in hospital. A MRI scanner, a gamma camera and a CT scanner. To learn more click here

Here in Australia young brick builder Connor Brennan was approached by Dr. Sean Geoghegan, State Director of Radiation Oncology Medical Physics at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, to take part in a project to design and create a Lego model of a Linac. Around the same time Connor’s Grandmother was diagnosed with a tumor on her jaw that required radiotherapy treatment, using both an immobilisation mask and a Linac. Two models have been designed by Connor, one is a kit to be provided to children with instructions for them to build, the other, more complex model, has motors controlled via bluetooth from a phone app! To learn more about Connor's models click here.

The aim of building the model is to demonstrate what the machine looks like and how it moves around patients during treatment, reducing stress and anxiety, and contributing to the success of treatment sessions. After treatment is over, patients are encouraged to use the bricks to make something different such as a rocket, a rabbit, or a robot. This can be an important aspect of their transition back to a more normal life.