How X-Rays, MRIs and Other Imaging Revolutionized Medicine

Article ID: 595124

Released: 18-Oct-2012 4:35 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: Loyola University Health System

Newswise — MAYWOOD, Il. - On Nov. 8, Loyola University Medical Center will celebrate a series of extraordinary technological advances that have revolutionized medicine.

Loyola will be observing the first annual International Day of Radiology, which is being held on the 117th anniversary of the discovery of the X-ray. In addition to making medical X-rays possible, the discovery created a pathway to a broad range of other imaging techniques, such as ultrasounds, CT scans, PET scans and MRIs.

"In one way or another, radiology benefits nearly every inpatient and outpatient in the healthcare system," said Dr. Scott Mirowitz, chair of Loyola's Department of Radiology.Imaging technologies have enabled doctors to make faster and more accurate diagnoses. Consequently, patients spend less time in the hospital, are treated more effectively and don't have to undergo invasive exploratory surgeries.

Imaging enables doctors to, for example, determine the exact nature and location of a fracture; determine whether a head has sustained serious damage; or determine whether stomach pains are due to a swollen appendix or other causes that previously might have required exploratory surgery. Radiology also plays a critical role in all stages of cancer care, from early detection and prevention to treatment monitoring.

The New England Journal of Medicine named imaging among the top 10 medical advances of the last 1,000 years.

"Early diagnosis and effective treatment made possible by biomedical imaging and image-guided intervention have contributed to significant improvements in surviving cancer and many other illnesses," Mirowitz said.

For example, the breast cancer death rate has dropped by more than 30 percent since the widespread use of mammograms enabled physicians to catch cancers in early stages.

Radiologic research likely will lead to similar successes with other conditions.

Imaging is among the most cost-effective tools in medicine. Radiology costs are the slowest-growing of all physician services among the privately insured, and Medicare spending on imaging scans has not increased since 2003.

"Scans generally cost less than the more invasive and less accurate methods they replaced," Mirowitz said. "And scans can detect illness at earlier stages, when they can be treated most effectively at the lowest cost."

The imaging revolution dates to Nov. 8, 1895, when German physicist Wilhelm Rontgen produced and detected electromagnetic radiation in a wavelength range that today is known as X-rays.

Rontgen's discovery caused a sensation. People were fascinated -- and unsettled -- by the ability to peer into the body and see bones and other previously hidden structures. The Russian tsar and the German emperor had themselves X-rayed. The queen of Portugal ordered X-rays of her ladies-in-waiting to demonstrate the harmful effects of corsets, and a French researcher took X-rays of feet crippled by shoes that were too tight.

Many people thought X-rays would enable them to detect human thoughts or see the fourth dimension. And Superman, of course, had "X-ray vision." Newspapers celebrated X-rays, and businessmen and hucksters exploited the "X-ray euphoria." X-rays became popular attractions in carnivals and side shows, and shoe stores routinely X-rayed customers' feet.

But in medicine, X-rays served a serious purpose. Rather than relying on exploratory surgeries or educated guesses, doctors now could see inside patients' bodies to make accurate diagnoses.

Ultrasound machines were introduced in the 1950s and gained popularity in the 1960s. The first computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines were introduced in the 1970s.

Today, Loyola University Health System has a full range of state-of-the-art imaging equipment at its main hospital and outpatient center in Maywood; at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital; and at 13 clinics and centers. The Department of Radiology operates 29 X-ray machines, 16 ultrasound machines, 11 bone-density scanners, 10 CT scanners, 9 MRI scanners, 9 nuclear medicine systems, 8 mammography units, 7 interventional radiology suites, 1 positron emission tomography (PET) scanner and one PET-CT scanner.

The Radiology Department is focused on providing patients with the latest and most comfortable imaging technology. Patients have easy access to nationally recognized subspecialty radiologists who are recognized for their contributions in patient care, teaching and research.

"Imaging technology is constantly evolving and changing for the better," Mirowitz said. "It is becoming faster and more accurate, and providing novel means of peering inside the body to noninvasively evaluate form and function. At Loyola, we are keeping pace with these advances, which are markedly improving the diagnosis and treatment of our patients every day."

The International Day of Radiology is sponsored by the American College of Radiology, the European Society of Radiology, the Radiological Society of North America and other organizations.

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