Most people have seen an X-ray, with its ghostly, transparent images of white bone against a black background.
But these days, radiologic images can be far more detailed, with vivid colors and amazingly lifelike, computer-generated pictures of not only bone but vessels, organs, muscle, tissue, and fat.
X-rays still have an important place as a useful diagnostic tool. However, as imaging technology continues to evolve, doctors are able to see inside the body in more detail than ever before without using a scalpel.
State-of-the-art diagnostic imaging services available today include conventional radiography (the familiar X-ray), as well as an array of high-tech options: computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, nuclear medicine, and positron emission tomography/computerized tomography (PET/CT).
To make an X-ray image, a type of electromagnetic energy beam is directed at a part of the body. The energy, called X-ray radiation, passes through soft tissues, but is absorbed by more solid structures such as bones. A piece of special photographic film that is sensitive to X-rays is placed on the other side of the body. The ï¿½shadowsï¿½ where the energy does not pass through create the image you see on an X-ray.
CT scans are somewhat similar, but because the radiation beam is rotated around the part of the body being scanned, CT offers much greater detail. The technique creates multiple ï¿½slicesï¿½ or imaging planes to gather information. A computer compiles the data and creates detailed images. Sometimes a special contrast dye is injected into the patient to help components such as blood vessels and organs show up in clearer detail.
Unlike CT and X-ray, MRI does not involve X-ray radiation. Instead, MRI utilizes a powerful magnet and radio waves to create an image. MRI is often used to study soft tissues, such as organs and nerves, and can provide a very high level of detail, enabling physicians to detect and diagnose disease that might have been missed with other imaging techniques.
Specialty treatment centers
Yet another form of radiology is nuclear medicine, which involves injecting radioactive tracer molecules to measure blood flow.
No longer just for looking at bones, radiology is a science used in tests for all kinds of illness throughout the body, including cancer, heart disease, thyroid disorders, tumors, bowel problems, gallstones, aneurysms, infections, and spinal problems.
In the new Gill Imaging Center at the University of Kentucky, radiologists from the Department of Diagnostic Radiology work with Gill Heart Institute cardiologists to diagnose high-risk patients whose level of heart disease is unknown. Using highly detailed cardiovascular CT, MRI, and nuclear medicine, doctors are able to get a good look inside the heart without exposing patients to the risks of more invasive procedures.
Similarly, at UKï¿½s Davis-Mills Magnetic Resonance Imaging & Spectroscopy Center, physicians can get a multi-dimensional view of the central nervous system, pelvis and abdomen, brain, and spinal cord.
Radiology is also used to treat disease through therapeutic radiology techniques to direct heat and radiation at tumors. In addition, ultrasound technology guides physicians through procedures using small incisions to reach inside the body rather than performing conventional surgery.
For more information on radiology medicine, visit UK HealthCare online at www.ukhealthcare.uky.edu and type ï¿½radiologyï¿½ in the search box.