Radiology is the medical specialty directing medical imaging technologies to diagnose and treat diseases. Originally it was the aspect of medical science dealing with the medical use of electromagnetic energy emitted by X-ray machines or other such radiation devices for the purpose of obtaining visual information as part of medical imaging. Radiology that involves use of x-ray is called roentgenology. Modern day radiological imaging is no longer limited to the use of x-rays, and now includes technology-intensive imaging with high frequency sound waves, magnetic fields, and radioactivity.
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (English spelling Roentgen) first discovered x-radiation on 8 November 1895 at the Physical Institute of Wuerzburg University. He named the radiation he had discovered "X-radiation". This term is still in use today in the Anglo-American region. His work was first published in a meeting protocol of the Wuerzburg Physical-Medical Society in the 1895 volume; the article was submitted by W.C. Röntgen on 28 December 1895. Roentgen received the first Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of X-rays in 1901.
Today, following extensive training, radiologists direct an array of imaging technologies (such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) nuclear medicine, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)) to diagnose or treat disease. Interventional radiology is the performance of (usually minimally invasive) medical procedures with the guidance of imaging technologies. The acquisition of medical imaging is usually carried out by the radiographer or radiologic technologist.
Outside of the medical field, radiology also encompasses the examination of the inner structure of objects using X-rays or other penetrating radiation.
As a medical specialty, radiology can be classified broadly into Diagnostic radiology and Therapeutic radiology.
- Diagnostic radiology is the interpretation of images of the human body to aid in the diagnosis or prognosis of disease. General diagnostic radiologists may interpret studies in multiple fields commensurate with their training and expertise. Multiple sub-specialties exist however which require one and two year fellowships and further certification. These include;
- Chest radiology.
- Abdominal & Pelvic radiology. Sometimes together termed "Body Imaging."
- Interventional radiology uses imaging to guide therapeutic and angiographic procedures. Also known as Vascular & Interventional radiology.
- Neuroradiology involves the osseous spine and its neural contents, and head and neck imaging.
- Pediatric radiology.
- Musculoskeletal radiology.
- Mammography and Women's Imaging.
- Nuclear Medicine
Therapeutic radiology, Radiotherapy a separate specialty, utilizes radiation to treat cancer and other diseases. It is also known as radiation oncology.
Acquisition of radiological images
Patients have the following procedures to provide images for Radiological decisions to be made.
Projection (plain) radiography
(or Roentgenographs, named after the discoverer of X-rays, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
(1845–1923) are often used for evaluation of bony
structures and soft tissues. An X-Ray machine directs electromagnetic radiation upon a specified region in the body. This radiation tends to pass through less dense matter (air, fat, muscle, and other tissues), but is absorbed or scattered by denser materials (bones, tumors, lungs affected by severe pneumonia). In Film-Screen Radiography, radiation which has passed through a patient then strikes a cassette containing a screen of fluorescent phosphors and exposes x-ray film. Areas of film exposed to higher amounts of radiation will appear as black or grey on X-ray film while areas exposed to less radiation will appear lighter or white.
In Computed Radiography (CR), the x-rays passing through the patient strike a sensitized plate which is then read and digitized into a computer image by a separate machine. In Digital Radiography the x-rays strike a plate of x-ray sensors producing a digital computer image directly. While all three methods are currently in use, the trend in the U.S. is away from film and toward digital imaging.
Plain radiography was the only imaging modality available during the first 50 years of Radiology. It is still the first study ordered in evaluation of the lungs, heart and skeleton because of its wide availability, speed and relative low cost.
are special applications of X-ray
imaging, in which a fluorescent screen or image intensifier tube is connected to a closed-circuit television system, which allows real-time imaging of structures in motion or augmented with a radiocontrast
agent. Radiocontrast agents are administered, often swallowed or injected into the body of the patient, to delineate anatomy and functioning of the blood vessels, the genitourinary system or the gastrointestinal tract
.Two radiocontrasts are presently in use. Barium (as BaSO4) may be given orally or rectally for evaluation of the GI tract. Iodine, in multiple proprietary forms, may be given by oral, rectal, intraarterial or intravenous routes. These radiocontrast agents strongly absorb or scatter X-ray radiation, and in conjunction with the real-time imaging allows demonstration of dynamic processes, such as peristalsis
in the digestive tract or blood flow in arteries and veins. Iodine contrast may also be concentrated in abnormal areas more or less than in normal tissues and make abnormalities (tumors, cysts, inflammation) more conspicuous. Additionally, in specific circumstances air can be used as a contrast agent for the gastrointestinal system and carbon dioxide can be used as a contrast agent in the venous system; in these cases, the contrast agent attenuates the X-ray radiation less than the surrounding tissues.
imaging uses X-rays in conjunction with computing algorithms
to image the body. In CT, an X-ray generating tube opposite an X-ray detector (or detectors) in a ring shaped apparatus rotate around a patient producing a computer generated cross-sectional image (tomogram). CT is acquired in the axial
plane, while coronal and sagittal images can be rendered by computer reconstruction. Radiocontrast agents are often used with CT for enhanced delineation of anatomy. Intravenous contrast can allow 3D reconstructions of arteries and veins. Although radiographs provide higher spatial resolution, CT can detect more subtle variations in attenuation of X-rays. CT exposes the patient to more ionizing radiation than a radiograph. Spiral Multi-detector CT utilizes 8,16 or 64 detectors during continuous motion of the patient through the radiation beam to obtain much finer detail images in a shorter exam time. With computer manipulation these images can be reconstructed into 3D images of carotid, cerebral and coronary arteries. Faster scanning times in modern equipment has been associated with increased utilization.
The first commercially viable CT scanner was invented by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield at EMI Central Research Labs, Great Britain in 1972. EMI owned the distribution rights to The Beatles music and it was their profits which funded the research. Sir Hounsfield and Alan McLeod McCormick shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1979 for the invention of CT scanning. The first CT scanner in North America was installed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN in 1972.
(high-frequency sound waves) to visualize soft tissue structures in the body in real time. No ionizing radiation
is involved, but the quality of the images obtained using ultrasound is highly dependent on the skill of the person (ultrasonographer) performing the exam. Ultrasound is also limited by its inability to image through air (lungs, bowel loops) or bone. The use of ultrasound in medical imaging has developed mostly within the last 30 years. The first ultrasound images were static and two dimensional (2D), but with modern-day ultrasonography 3D reconstructions can be observed in real-time; effectively becoming 4D.
Because ultrasound does not utilize ionizing radiation, unlike radiography, CT scans, and nuclear medicine imaging techniques, it is generally considered safer. For this reason, this modality plays a vital role in obstetrical imaging. Fetal anatomic development can be thoroughly evaluated allowing early diagnosis of many fetal anomalies. Growth can be assessed over time, important in patients with chronic disease or gestation-induced disease, and in multiple gestations (twins, triplets etc.). Color-Flow Doppler Ultrasound measures the severity of peripheral vascular disease and is used by Cardiology for dynamic evaluation of the heart, heart valves and major vessels. Stenosis of the carotid arteries can presage cerebral infarcts (strokes). DVT in the legs can be found via ultrasound before it dislodges and travels to the lungs (pulmonary embolism), which can be fatal if left untreated. Ultrasound is useful for image-guided interventions like biopsies and drainages such as thoracentesis). It is also used in the treatment of kidney stones (renal lithiasis) via lithotripsy. Small portable ultrasound devices now replace peritoneal lavage in the triage of trauma victims by directly assessing for the presence of hemorrhage in the peritoneum and the integrity of the major viscera including the liver, spleen and kidneys. Extensive hemoperitoneum (bleeding inside the body cavity) or injury to the major organs may require emergent surgical exploration and repair.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
uses strong magnetic fields to align spinning atomic nuclei
(usually hydrogen protons
) within body tissues, then uses a radio signal to disturb the axis of rotation of these nuclei and observes the radio frequency
signal generated as the nuclei return to their baseline states plus all surrounding areas. The radio signals are collected by small antennae, called coils, placed near the area of interest. An advantage of MRI is its ability to produce images in axial
and multiple oblique planes with equal ease. MRI scans give the best soft tissue contrast of all the imaging modalities. With advances in scanning speed and spatial resolution, and improvements in computer 3D algorithms and hardware, MRI has become an essential tool in musculoskeltal radiology and neuroradiology.
One disadvantage is that the patient has to hold still for long periods of time in a noisy, cramped space while the imaging is performed. Claustrophobia severe enough to terminate the MRI exam is reported in up to 5% of patients. Recent improvements in magnet design including stronger magnetic fields (3 teslas), shortening exam times, wider, shorter magnet bores and more open magnet designs, have brought some relief for claustrophobic patients. However, in magnets of equal field strength there is often a trade-off between image quality and open design. MRI has great benefit in imaging the brain, spine, and musculoskeletal system. The modality is currently contraindicated for patients with pacemakers, cochlear implants, some indwelling medication pumps, certain types of cerebral aneurysm clips, metal fragments in the eyes and some metallic hardware due to the powerful magnetic fields and strong fluctuating radio signals the body is exposed to. Areas of potential advancement include functional imaging, cardiovascular MRI, as well as MR image guided therapy.
imaging involves the administration into the patient of radiopharmaceuticals consisting of substances with affinity for certain body tissues labeled with radioactive tracer. The most commonly used tracers are Technetium-99m, Iodine-123, Iodine-131 and Thallium-201. The heart
, and bones are commonly evaluated for particular conditions using these techniques. While anatomical
detail is limited in these studies, nuclear medicine is useful in displaying physiological
function. The excretory function of the kidneys, iodine concentrating ability of the thyroid, blood flow to heart muscle, etc. can be measured. The principal imaging device is the gamma camera
which detects the radiation emitted by the tracer in the body and displays it as an image. With computer processing, the information can be displayed as axial, coronal and sagittal images (SPECT images). In the most modern devices Nuclear Medicine images can be fused with a CT scan taken quasi-simultaneously so that the physiological
information can be overlaid or co-registered with the anatomical structures to improve diagnostic accuracy.
scanning also falls under "nuclear medicine." In PET scanning, a radioactive biologically-active substance, most often Fluorine
, is injected into a patient and the radiation emitted by the patient is detected to produce multi-planar images of the body. Metabolically more active tissues, such as cancer, concentrate the active substance more than normal tissues. PET images can be combined with CT images to improve diagnostic accuracy.
The applications of nuclear medicine can include bone scanning
which traditionally has had a strong role in the work-up/staging of cancers
. Myocardial perfusion
imaging is a sensitive and specific screening exam
for reversible myocardial ischemia
. Molecular Imaging
is the new and exciting frontier in this field.
Teleradiology is the transmission of radiographic images from one location to another for interpretaion by a radiologist. It is most often used to allow rapid interpretation of emergency room, ICU and other emergent examinations after hours of usual operation, at night and on weekends. In these cases the images are often sent across time zones,(Spain, Australia,India) with the receiving radiologist working his normal daylight hours.
Teleradiology can also be utilized to obtain consultation with an expert or sub-specialist about a complicated or puzzling case.
Teleradiology requires a sending station, high speed Internet connection and high quality receiving station. At the sending station, plain radiographs are passed through a digitizing machine before transmission, while CT scans, MRIs, Ultrasounds and Nuclear Medicine scans can be sent directly as they are already a stream of digital data. The computer at the receiving end will need to have a high-quality display screen that has been tested and cleared for clinical purposes. Sometimes the receiving computer will have a printer so that images can be printed for convenience. The interpreting radiologist will then fax or e-mail the radiology report to the requesting physician.
The advantages of after-hours Teleradiology is the more expert and rapid examination of radiologic studies for the benefit of emergency room and hospitalized patients and their physicians. The disadvantages included limited contact between the ordering physician and the radiologist, uncertainty about the radilogists's abilities and the cost. Laws and regulations concerning the use of teleradiology vary among the states, with some states requiring a license to practise medicine in the state sending the radiologic exam while others just require an American license. Many states require the teleradiology report to be a only preliminary report and require a final report by a hospital staff radiologist.
Diagnostic radiologists must complete prerequisite undergraduate training, four years of medical school, and five years of post-graduate training. The first postgraduate year is usually a transitional year of various rotations, but is sometimes a preliminary internship in medicine or surgery. A four-year diagnostic radiology residency follows. During this residency, the radiology resident must pass a medical physics board exam covering the science and technology of ultrasounds, CTs, x-rays, nuclear medicine, and MRI. Core knowledge of the radiologist includes radiobiology which is the study of the effects of ionizing radiation on living tissue. Near the completion of their residency, the radiologist in training is eligible to take board examinations (written and oral) given by the American Board of Radiology.
Following completion of residency training, radiologists either begin their practice or enter into sub-speciality training programs known as fellowships. Examples of sub-speciality training in radiology include abdominal imaging, thoracic imaging, CT/Ultrasound, MRI
imaging, interventional radiology
, interventional neuroradiology
, pediatric radiology
, mammography and women's imaging. Fellowship training programs in radiology are usually 1 or 2 years in length.
Radiologists generally achieve a higher level of compensation
than many medical specialties as well as a highly desirable regular
work schedule that often does not involve many weekend or night hours. The introduction of teleradiology
has significantly improved the working environment and schedules of radiologists, essentially distributing the increasing workflow into shifts. Those seeking residency positions find that entry into this field of medicine is highly competitive. The field is rapidly expanding due to advances in computer technology which is closely linked to modern imaging.
The exams (radiography
) are usually performed by radiologic technologists
, (also known as diagnostic radiographers) who in the United States have a 2-year Associates Degree and the UK a 3 year Honours Degree.
Veterinary radiologists are veterinarians that specialize in the use of X-rays, ultrasound, MRI and nuclear medicine for diagnostic imaging or treatment of disease in animals. Veterinary radiologists are certified in either diagnostic radiology or radiation oncology by the American College of Veterinary Radiology.
As in the United States, diagnostic radiologists usually have four years of undergraduate university, followed by three or four years of medical school and five years of residency training, one year of which can be in a field unrelated to medical imaging. Specialist examinations at the end of training are administered by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Graduates of Canadian residency programs are considered equivalent to their American counterparts, with many graduates opting to sit for American Board examinations as well. A majority of graduates from Canadian residency training programs go on to do an additional one or two years of post graduate fellowship training to allow for further subspecialization. Residency training in the United States is considered equivalent to training in Canada and US graduates are eligible to sit for the Canadian boards examinations with certain provisions related to basic medical training such as completing medical school in Canada or a year of general rotating internship in an accredited Canadian teaching hospital.
Radiologists undergo 5 years of medical school training, followed by one to two years of full-time post-graduate medical or surgical rotations, before embarking on full-time radiology training. The training system is based on that of the United Kingdom, with trainees taking the examination administered by the Royal College of Radiologists (UK) to obtain the Fellowship of the College (FRCR) after at least 3 years of Basic Medical Specialty training. This is then followed by 2 to 3 years of Advanced Specialty Training, after which the trainee completes an exit examination to qualify as a specialist in Diagnostic Radiology. Radiologists certified by the American Board of Radiology are also recognized as specialists in the Singapore system.
After earning the right to practice medicine, German physicians who want to be an radiologist have to go through a 5-year residency, ending with a board examination(Facharztausbildung). During this time, physicians are educated in all aspects of their chosen field of medicine. Usually this includes rotations serving...
- American College of Radiology - A national organization and lobby for radiologists
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists - A national organization for certification of radiologic technologists and other imaging professionals
- American Society of Radiologic Technologists - A national society for radiologic technologists
- American Roentgen Ray Society - much information on radiology, including online American Journal of Roentgenology
- Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiological Society of Europe
- Curriculum In Radiology Reporting - Funded by RSNA WWW Education Grant
- European Congress of Radiology - the essential organization of radiologists in Europe and beyond.
- Medicexchange - Medical Imaging Leading global Medical Imaging portal for Professionals, with breaking news, latest articles, and Radiology related products
- MedPix - MedPix Medical Image Database - the world's largest peer reviewed radiology teaching file - associated with the ACR, USUHS, AFIP and many smaller organizations.
- MyPACS.net - NIH-sponsored site containing over 16,000 radiology cases.
- NY State Society of Radiologic Technology NY state society of Radiologic Technology.
- Ontario Association of Radiologists Ontario, Canada.
- PedRad Info - A pediatric radiology publication and communication platform.
- PediatricRadiology.com - A pediatric radiology digital library.
- Radiological Society of North America - huge amount of information on radiology, including links to the online journals Radiology and Radiographics
- Radiology.org - The Radiology information resource. The website contains comprehensive listings of radiology journals and organizations worldwide. The custom Radiology Search, compiled from hundreds of peer-reviewed radiology sites, covers diagnostic radiology, radiation oncology, nuclear medicine, physics, engineering, computer science, and imaging technologies.
- Radiology Exam Info for Patients - The radiology information resource for patients and other medical professionals.
- Radiology Resource selection of cases on vascular and non vascular applications of MDCT.
- Radiology Search Engine A peer reviewed and user tailored Radiology specific search engine. Search for Radiology images, videos, teaching files, (also in) books, news, publications, journals, societies, Radiology vendors & products, CME offers and more. Create also your own search engine.
- Radiopaedia - A comprehensive radiology education resource.
- radRounds - Social network for medical imaging professionals and radiologists to build relationships in clinical practice, education, career, research, & industry.
- radswiki Education site for radiology - is a WIKI just like this site.
- Royal College of Radiologists United Kingdom Radiologist organization.
- The American Board of Radiology - The organization responsible for Board Certification in Radiology, Radiation Oncology and Radiation Physics in the United States
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