What’s the difference between radiology and radiation therapy?
The first step to treating a potentially prolonged disease or health condition is a diagnosis. Sometimes symptoms are clear from the get-go, but other times they aren’t visible or evident to a sufferer or their medical advisor. In these cases, a doctor might refer the individual to a specialist to get a clearer idea of what is happening in their body.
Radiology is a range of procedures used as diagnostic measures which, despite the name, do not necessarily use radiation. Instead, each procedure is classified under Radiology due to the fact that they use imaging technology in one way or another to detect any abnormalities and diagnose a plethora of conditions.
What is radiology?
Radiology is a discipline in medicine that uses high-energy radiation to diagnose a variety of diseases and conditions. Radiology makes use of diagnostic imaging to indicate, detect, and diagnose conditions that may otherwise be “invisible” to the eye. There are various methods and procedures within the discipline, such as:
X-ray imaging uses electromagnetic radiation to send “x-ray particles” throughout the body to create images which are then displayed on a computer or, simply, film. X-rays are the most common procedure to determine fractures of bones because the rays cannot penetrate dense matter such as bone, displaying them as solid white areas. And thus, they are commonly used to confirm bone fractures where there is a dark gap in the dense, white areas.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
MRIs do not use ionised radiation. Incredibly strong magnets and radio waves are utlised to create images of the entire body or focus on a particular body part in isolation.
An MRI scanner is a large, cylindrical machine that a body will pass through whilst lying on a table. The machine and process is quite loud and long which may be distressing to some people but it’s a highly effective procedure used to diagnose various conditions primarily in the central nervous or musculoskeletal system, and also to detect tumours or abnormal masses, and to study blood vessels.
Computed tomography (CT) scanning
Computed tomography scans – or CT scans – are sometimes referred to as CAT scans, the shortened term for computerised axial tomography. CT scans use x-rays to display cross-sections of the body. Like MRIs, they can be used to show various portions of the body, such as the chest, pelvis, and head. The procedure also requires an individual to lie horizontally, however it does not take as long and very little noise is involved. Scans may be over in a matter of minutes.
Positron emission tomography (PET)
PET (sometimes PT) scanning uses a “tracer”, which is a radioactive substance, to indicate diseases in the body. The tracer is introduced into the body through an IV – like a drip. The test can be used to determine whether or not organs and tissues are in working order and that blood flow is behaving normally.
After the tracer has been given, it will take approximately an hour for it to make its way through the body. Similar to an MRI, the testee needs to lie horizontally on a table that passes through a cylindrical scanner. The tracer is then converted into 3D images.
PET scanning is typically used to determine how cancers spread and whether or not they are responding to the recommended treatment, but can also be used to check brain function, for example.
What is radiation therapy?
Radiation therapy, or radiotherapy, is treatment for the various cancers that develop in the body. The procedure uses high doses of radiation to attack and kill cancerous cells. It is considerably stronger than a typical x-ray, which performs scans using much lower doses. Once the cells have been targeted, they are broken down and expelled from the body. Radiation therapy is a process. It can take weeks or months to effectively rid the body of the cancerous cells.
However, bear in mind that there might be complications. The course and length of radiation therapy is largely dependent on the type of cancer, tumor size and location, and various other factors.
Internal radiation therapy
Internal radiation therapy involves introducing a radioactive substance in the body. This could be in the form of a solid, such as capsules, or a liquid. Using capsules or other solid substances allows for targeted treatment of a tumor found in an isolated area of the body. Using a liquid, however, requires it to be distributed throughout the body via an IV line, injection, or even by swallowing the substance.
External beam radiation therapy
This particular type of radiotherapy utilises an apparatus that aims the radiation at the cancer. Much like an MRI machine, it’s both large and rather noisy. External beam radiation therapy is able to target the specific location of the cancer, unlike internal radiation therapy which travels throughout the body “looking for” the cancer.
Although they may sound similar, radiology refers to the discipline within the medical field concerning various types of procedures that utilise imaging technology to detect and diagnose certain medical conditions, such as cancer. Whereas, radiation therapy refers to specialised medical treatment that uses radiation, either internally or externally, to eradicate the body of cancerous cells.
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Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.