Preventative medicine is nothing new, but it is becoming the focus of more physicians and more patients. After all, it’s always better to take a proactive approach to health and wellness rather than having to treat complicated conditions after the fact.
Simple things, like eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly, can help stave off dozens of common diseases. But no matter how healthy our habits are, there is always the risk of suffering a serious medical condition. That’s why preventative screenings to see what’s going on inside the body are also important and that’s where radiologists come in.
From X-Rays to MRIs to CT scans, radiologists use a variety of tests and tools to help catch diseases and conditions in their early stages when they’re easier to treat.
If you’re a medical student with an interest in preventative care, here’s a look at why radiologists play such a critical role in preventive medicine.
It’s All About Detection
Radiologists aren’t actually tasked with preventing diseases or medical conditions, but they do detect them. With routine tests and non-invasive measures, they can spot an issue at its onset, leading to better patient outcomes with more treatment options.
For example, an imaging test may detect the presence of a herniated disc in the lower spine. If it’s spotted early on before it gets worse, the patient may be able to treat it with cost-effective physical therapy rather than an invasive, expensive surgical procedure with a lengthy recovery time.
Imaging tests that don’t detect any sign of disease or internal damage are just as valuable, as they serve as the baseline for what’s “normal” for a patient, should something abnormal surface down the road.
Radiologists Perform Many Different Tests
While therapeutic and interventional radiologists test patients that have already developed conditions requiring treatment and attention, diagnostic radiologists often do the opposite. Here’s a look at some of the many tests that radiologists use to detect issues early when they’re easier to treat.
According to the CDC, approximately 240,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and catching it in its infancy is key. While mammograms are the most typical method of breast cancer screening, radiologists also rely on breast ultrasounds and MRIs to determine the presence or absence of cancerous cells in the breast tissue.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
MRIs are used to detect a wide range of conditions, including cysts, fibroids, joint injuries, and abnormalities in the internal organs. They are one of the most effective ways of detecting cancerous tumors, infections, stroke, and damaged soft tissue.
Cardiac scoring is a type of CT scan that allows radiologists to determine how much plaque or calcium has built up in the arteries. This imaging test can help to prevent and reduce the risk of deadly conditions, such as heart attack and other types of coronary disease.
Low Dose Lung Cancer Screening
With low-dose CT scans, radiologists can obtain detailed images of the lungs for early detection of lung cancer. While usually reserved for candidates at high risk for lung cancer (namely, current and former smokers), this screening can lead to a lung cancer diagnosis at the very beginning stage of the disease, resulting in better patient outcomes.
Bone Density Screening
Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry can help detect osteoporosis as well as estimate a patient’s risk for bone fractures. This type of preventative health screen is also a way to determine if osteoporosis medication is working in a patient.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
While a traditional colonoscopy is the most common way of detecting colorectal cancer, radiologists have the ability to perform a virtual colonoscopy with a special type of X-ray. This makes the process much less invasive than the traditional method.
Radiologists Work in Various Healthcare Settings
Radiologists work in a variety of clinical settings, including outpatient clinics, hospitals, and physician’s offices. In all of these settings, the expertise of reading imaging results and diagnosing patients can be invaluable for the patient’s entire healthcare team.
If you’re considering specializing in radiology in residency, keep in mind that workplace setting has a direct affect on salary.
Want to know if you’ll make more money working in a specialty hospital or an outpatient clinic?
This article takes a deeper dive into how radiology salaries vary by workplace, as well as by gender and location.
Radiology is one of the highest paying medical specialties. The vast majority of physicians in the field find it rewarding and say that they would choose the same specialty if given the chance to re-do their residency training.
If you’re looking to narrow down a specialty that will allow you to work in both a diagnostic and preventative area of healthcare, radiology just might be the right choice for you.