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What is Radiology?

Doctors and Medical Specialties

Radiology is the study of images of the human body by the use of radiant energy. A radiologist is a medical doctor who has five to six years of additional training in interpreting radiological images to diagnose and treat diseases. When radiological images are taken, a radiologist's job is to interpret results and consult with physicians to achieve a diagnosis.

The original field of radiology involved the use of X-ray or radiological devices in medical imaging, but today radiology also includes high frequency sound, magnetic, and radioactive imaging. Technologies currently used by radiologists include ultrasound, computed tomography (CT or CAT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and nuclear medicine. X-rays and fluoroscopes are used to diagnose bone tumors, broken bones, and other internal organ problems. CAT scans employ computers to focus on specific sections of the body. MRI focuses radiation on small parts of the body using supercooled magnets. PET, a device used in nuclear medicine, uses a radiotracer to give off gamma rays. The radiotracer is injected into a vein, swallowed, or inhaled as a gas and produces detailed pictures of organs and tissues. Sometimes, PET, MRI, and CT can be used in conjunction to provide a fusion of images to provide a more accurate diagnosis.

Interventional radiology is conducted by using fluoroscopy, CT, and ultrasound to guide wires, and catheters through the body to perform biopsies, insert catheters, drain fluids, and dilate or stent ducts and vessels. A commonly known diagnostic procedure called an angiogram is a form of interventional radiology. It is performed by injecting a contrast agent (radio-opaque) into a blood vessel, and using fluoroscopy to see the inside of arteries, veins, and the heart chambers. Angioplasty refers to the use of radiology in treating obstructed blood vessels.

Radiology is also used to destroy cancerous cells through targeted radiation using radionuclides. Radiation oncologists may administer radiation internally or outside of the body through use of a machine. The high-energy radiation prevents the reproduction of cancer cells and allows the body to rid itself of them. Fifty to sixty percent of cancer patients undergo radiation therapy at some point in their illness.

Hospitals and physician offices work with radiology groups to obtain information for diagnosis or treatment. Hospitals are known to employ diagnostic radiologists, but results are sometimes outsourced off-site for overnight cases. This method of interpreting results can be cost-effective and time saving when results can be transmitted for immediate diagnosis.

Right now, there is a high demand for radiology technologists who work with physicians and patients to obtain images. They are trained to help patients who are suffering pain and/or injury to feel at ease so a clear image can be achieved. Technologists undergo between one and four years of training to receive a certificate, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree in the field. They must be certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

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