Radiology is a branch of medicine which uses imaging technology to visualise structures within the body to diagnose, treat and monitor diseases and injuries. Every sector within healthcare relies on radiology to support and inform diagnosis and treatment.

Ionising radiation plays a major role in helping patient diagnosis and treatment, and continual advances in technology have led to the increasing use of ionising radiation in many patient pathways.

There are also opportunities to carry out examinations that do not use ionising radiation, such as MRI and ultrasound to diagnose and guide treatment. Clinicians will choose the most appropriate test to answer the clinical question being asked.

Radiology is divided into two specialities - diagnostic imaging and interventional radiology.

Diagnostic imaging

Diagnostic imaging uses ionising (X-rays) and non-ionising radiation (magnetic resonance and ultrasound) to diagnose symptoms, monitor treatment or screen for illnesses.

Diagnosis involves looking for the cause of symptoms or to assess the extent or progress of disease.

Monitoring involves understanding how the body is responding to treatment and guides continuation or change in treatment.

Screening involves looking for disease in an 'at risk' cohort of the population for example, the National Breast Screening Programme.

Modalities in diagnostic imaging are:

  • General radiography - plain film X-ray
  • Fluoroscopy - dynamic contrast studies
  • Computed Tomography scanning-cross sectional imaging
  • Dental radiography - orthopantomogram (panoramic images of the jaw and teeth), periapical, Cone Beam CT
  • DXA - dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (bone mineral density imaging)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging - non-ionising cross-sectional imaging
  • Ultrasound - non-ionising

Interventional radiology

Interventional radiology is a sub-specialty of radiology using minimally invasive, image-guided techniques to provide medical treatments. Interventional radiology uses X-rays (sometimes combined with ultrasound or Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to guide, diagnose and treat conditions. These treatments are for conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer etc. This specialty offers a quicker and safer alternative to many types of traditional surgery resulting in better outcomes and shorter stays in hospital.