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Radiology modalities

CT or CAT scan: A specialized X-ray machine produces computer-generated images that look like slices which are cross sections of body parts and internal organs. The exam is fast, non-invasive and has the unique ability to detect and diagnose a wide variety of medical conditions and abnormalities. It is frequently used as the primary diagnostic tool for early detection of tumors, infection, inflammatory conditions, stroke, obstructions, trauma and kidney stones.

Interventional Radiology (IR): IR is a subspecialty of radiology in which minimally invasive procedures are performed using image guidance. Some of these procedures are done for purely diagnostic purposes, while others are done for treatment purposes. These procedures have less risk, less pain and less recovery time as compared to open surgery. Radiographic images are used to direct these procedures, which are usually done with needles or other tiny instruments like small tubes or catheters. The images provide road maps that allow the interventional radiologists to guide these instruments through the body to the areas of interest.

Common interventional radiology procedures include:

  • Angiography: imaging the blood vessels to look for abnormalities
  • Balloon Angiogplasty: opening of narrow or blocked blood vessels using a balloon
  • Chemoembolization: delivering cancer treatment directly to a tumor through its blood supply, then using clot-inducing substances to block the artery, ensuring that the delivered chemotherapy is not "washed out" by continued blood flow
  • Biopsy: taking of a tissue sample from the area of interest for pathological examination
  • Embolization: blocking abnormal blood vessels (e.g. for the purpose of stopping bleeding)
  • Radiofrequency Ablation (RF/RFA): localized destruction of tissue (e.g. tumors) by heating
  • Thrombolysis: treatment aimed at dissolving blood clots (e.g. pulmonary emboli, leg vein thrombi, thrombosed hemodialysis accesses)
  • Venous Access: insertion and management of specialized kinds of intravenous devices (e.g. PICC lines, Hickman lines, dialysis lines, subcutaneous ports)
  • Vertebroplasty: percutaneous injections of biocompatible bone cement inside fractured vertebrae

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): This technology allows your doctor to have the clearest possible look at your internal anatomy. MRI does not use X-rays or radiation. Instead, it uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to provide computerized images, which appear as “slices” of the anatomy. From these pictures, the radiologist can determine the differences between healthy and abnormal tissue. The MRI procedure is simple and safe. One of its main benefits is that a lot of information can be obtained through a painless test.

Nuclear medicine: Imaging is performed using very small amounts of radioactive materials – comparable to the radiation with a diagnostic X-ray - administered either orally, via intravenous or under the skin. The radionuclide will travel through the blood stream to the target organ. The organ is then scanned for anatomical structures, function and disease. Nuclear medicine procedures can be used to diagnose hyperthyroidism (Grave's Disease), cardiac stress, orthopedic problems, abnormal function or blockages of gall bladder or liver, as well as for metabolic brain evaluations, and the staging of oncology patients. See testing process on video.

Radiography: X-rays provide anatomic images of specific areas. Among the exams performed in the diagnostic area are Upper and Lower GI, IVP, chest X-rays and routine X-rays of the various bones in the body.

Ultrasound: Very high-frequency sound waves produce an image of many of the internal structures of the body. This procedure is painless and produces very precise images of certain parts of the body. Ultrasound is the safest, easiest, non-invasive diagnostic exam that is performed to help diagnose a wide variety of disease processes. This procedure is frequently used for abdominal imaging, vascular studies and breast examinations.

Do you have questions about radiological procedures?

RadiologyInfo™ is an excellent source of concise, current and accurate information on diagnostic radiology. The information includes how the procedures are performed, what you might experience, how to prepare for the exams and much more. An extensive glossary of terms is also included. RadiologyInfo™ is a site dedicated to patient education sponsored by RSNA and ACR.

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