Over the past century-plus—123 years, to be exact—the x-ray has become ingrained in our lives. Nearly everyone has had one, they’re relatively inexpensive, highly accessible, exams are painless and they provide a wealth of important information. Wilhelm Roentgen’s landmark discovery directly enhances countless lives, ours included.
It’s fair to say that advanced radiology began with the x-ray and evolved to include other advanced imaging modalities. Through it all x-ray has remained the preferred imaging technology for evaluating less complex medical issues. As x-ray’s second century unfolds, that won’t likely change.
A Short History
- Following Roentgen’s discovery in 1895, a window into the once-invisible interior of the body was finally opened to physicians.
- Within days, the German scientist produced the first x-ray of human anatomy: that of his wife’s hand with her wedding ring visible.
- Through the years, technology advancements have succeeded at minimizing the radiation dose that most x-rays require, making them safe for all.
- Advanced imaging techniques such as computed tomography (CT) rely heavily on x-ray technology, and CT now plays a significant role in the diagnosis of more complex medical issues.
From Roentgen to Advanced Clinical Radiology Technology
It is reasonably certain that Roentgen had little idea how far his discovery would progress, or that its primary use would involve a broad range of medical issues. Indeed, the x-ray spawned an essential medical specialty—clinical radiology—that over time has changed medicine forever. As a result, swift advances in clinical radiology technology, such as PACS for radiology and other techniques that have occurred, are radically enhancing the way physicians diagnose and treat injury and illness.
Benefits of Clinical Radiology
- Clinical radiology often eliminates the necessity for patients to undergo exploratory surgery, improving patient care.
- It can confirm the need to undergo an operation.
- It helps clinicians diagnose and manage most medical conditions.
- Interventional radiologic procedures are performed with reduced risk, shorter recovery periods and minimized hospitalization compared with traditional and laparoscopic surgery.
- It can visually dictate how medical conditions are treated. These include stroke, heart disease and cancer.
- It can screen to detect diseases such as breast and other cancers, reducing morbidity and mortality.
Since clinical radiology has evolved, the specialty has moved far beyond x-ray to include a host of other important modalities. Each modality has specific uses, and the benefits of using each in the proper sequence and context are usually straightforward. Modalities include:
- CT—Board-certified radiologists use numerous computer-processed x-ray-generated images to produce virtual slices of specific body areas.
- MRI—This produces 3D images of soft tissues that x-rays cannot effectively visualize. MRI requires powerful magnets and radio waves to complete diagnostic exams of different body sections.
- Nuclear medicine—Scans are used to evaluate the possibility of compromised internal organs.
- PET—A nuclear medicine procedure, PET requires the injection of contrast material in order to detect cancer and other diseases.
- Ultrasound—This painlessly produces static images and a moving range in an effort to visualize anatomy. Ultrasound is highly useful in imaging babies in utero.
The Bright Future of Clinical Radiology
Over the past century, and particularly the last 40 years, advanced radiology has grown in leaps. No longer limited to x-ray, the specialty can detect the presence of tiny breast abnormalities, identify potentially deadly metastases, determine the extent of stroke and visualize the presence of life-threatening coronary blockages. In light of that, it is difficult to imagine that significant advances lie ahead. What does the future hold?
- The quality of medical images will continue to improve, providing greater detail than ever before. Greater detail means that more anatomic information will be available to clinicians. This information will prove easier to access with software developments like enterprise imaging.
- The use of radiology to evaluate cell function will continue to expand, presenting a keener insight into the human body’s tiny building blocks.
- Interactions between radiologists and referring physicians will also expand, resulting in the fast, secure transfer of medical data between clinicians and more prompt diagnosis and treatment.
In 1895, few could imagine the significant inroads that advanced radiology would make! Today, it is difficult to imagine the inroads that clinical radiology will make going forward. As Abraham Lincoln so wisely said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” It’s fair to say creation has already begun.