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Physics software used to fight cancer

A screenshot of the FLUKA software user interface.
Fluka calculates the dose distribution for a patient treated at Centro Nazionale di Adroterapia Oncologica per il trattamento deitumori(National Hadrontherapy Center for Cancer Treatment), in Italy, with proton beams. The color-bar displays the normalized dose values. Image courtesy A. Mairani (CNAO).

In the past, we've reported on how computing and physics tools are used to advance and administer new cancer treatments. Now researchers at CERN and INFN are once again repurposing a physics tool for use in the battle against cancer: a simulation code called Fluka.

Fluka was originally designed for accelerator and detector physics. Physicists use it to accurately predict electromagnetic and nuclear interactions in matter.

For example, CERN has used it to study beam-machine interactions and radiation damage, and NASA has used it to forecast radiation exposure in astronauts.

Fluka is now used at state-of-the-art therapeutic ion beam facilities, such as the Heidelberg Ion-beam Therapy Center in Germany, to support treatment planning for cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy. Due to its accurate physics models, it is employed to generate large amounts of physical input data for commercial treatment planning software. It is also used for the re-calculation and verification of treatment plans.

Till Böhlen, a researcher working at CERN under the PARTNER framework, is developing Fluka for ion beam therapy. "Fluka is a valuable tool to compute doses for patient treatment very accurately. This is especially useful in critical treatment situations," Böhlen said to the CERN Bulletin. Some improvements to Fluka for the medical community are partly funded by a FP7 project called Particle Training Network for European Radiotherapy.

More information about this topic can be found in the latest CERN Bulletin article.

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