By Alain Hyman, MD

Today’s Diagnostic Radiologist, as a member of your healthcare team, combines imaging technology with elements of your most current personal history to provide useful information along 3 main avenues:  

  • Screening for signs of early disease (e.g. screening mammography)   
  • Diagnosis and staging of new conditions
  • Monitoring of the effects of treatment

The work of modern radiologists goes well beyond “driving home” your doctor’s diagnosis. From disease prevention through diagnosis, to treatment, recovery, follow up and surveillance, diagnostic radiologists and their staff work for you, both in times of sickness and health. All along the road, radiologists are there to help direct your care. Our efforts help pave the way to appropriate preventive measures by detecting possible trouble “beyond the horizon”, while mapping out choices for disease treatment, and tracking the progress toward recovery  and health.   

Radiology  Screening  is based on testing individuals at­ risk for certain types of disease. It uses simple, “low impact” and readily available examinations designed exclusively to easily detect the early signs of a specific illness while in its most curable stage. Think of Radiology Screening as a natural extension of the routine exams you undergo regularly at the physician’s office. Radiology Screening is aimed at the early detection of certain types of cancer (breast, lung, colon, etc.) and  Cardio­Vascular Diseases, as well as Fracture­Risk (osteoporosis or loss of bone mineral) in a person without symptoms, and whose personal or family history point to an increased probability of contracting such illnesses. Screening exams, like routine physicals, should be repeated at regular intervals as determined by you and your provider.    

Diagnostic examinations will confirm the nature and extent of a disease causing symptoms, or  abnormalities found on your physical examination or lab tests (blood or urine samples). Your treating physician selects the most appropriate type of medical imaging in conjunction with expert  radiologists, using scientific evidence based guidelines. Arriving at your diagnosis may require more than one single radiologic procedure depending on the nature of the illness, and different information is derived from each study, be it plain X­rays, CT, MRI, sonography,  PET scan or Gamma Scintigraphy. The radiologist often relies on the results of previous exams performed elsewhere, in order to assess new imaging findings. You will be asked for reports and/or actual images of previous studies for comparison. Contrast material injections (iodine for CT, gadolinium for MRI) may be administered ­­when deemed “safe and effective” ­­at the radiologist’s discretion, in order to increase the visibility of subtle disease and clarify findings of uncertain significance. You will be asked ahead of time about allergies and other possible contraindications to the use of intravenous contrast. Studies are performed under the watchful supervision and monitoring of a skilled physician’s assistant, to ensure that the exam is of the appropriate scope and accuracy.    

In performing an examination, radiologist and staff will always balance the “need to show “, with the obligation to minimize patients’ risks related to contrast material and radiation. Individuals are subjected to the least amount of scanning necessary to demonstrate a finding. Results are transmitted electronically to your referring doctor in a timely manner, along with pertinent key  images. To the extent necessary, you are personally notified of urgent or important findings.

Monitoring the effects of treatment, whether aimed at malignant or other chronic disease, is one of the most challenging tasks facing your health­care team, and your radiologist is often in the driver’s seat.  Imaging protocols are designed to detect and quantify both the unwanted side ­effects and beneficial results  of treatment. The radiologist focuses on tracking the extent of disease over time, while also detecting unwanted side ­effects early on, even before symptoms appear. Evaluating the response to treatment  using medical imaging is the mainstay of cancer management.

Following a successful course of therapy, surveillance studies are performed at pre­determined intervals so as to detect any early recurrence of  disease, when additional treatment is most effective. Plan a visit today to your local Radiologists’ website to find out more about the road to health through radiologic imaging.