Advancements in Imaging Mean Faster, More Accurate Diagnosis

Imaging helps doctors and specialists better diagnose medical conditions

An imaging healthcare expert wearing a lab coat examines results from a patient MRI in a hospital setting

by Stephen Moreland, Chairman of Radiology

If you’ve ever broken a bone, had a mammogram or undergone an ultrasound exam, you’ve personally experienced the role imaging can play in diagnosing health conditions that aren’t visible to the eye.

Imaging enables physicians and other health care professionals to see what’s going on inside your body without surgery. From basic X-rays to interventional radiology, imaging is playing an increasingly advanced role in the non-invasive, painless diagnosis, treatment and prevention of a wide range of diseases.

If you are being treated for an injury or illness, there’s a good chance imaging may be part of your care.

Different types of imaging

Diagnostic X-ray

The most commonly used imaging technology, diagnostic X-rays are used to check for broken bones. Chest X-rays can help confirm pneumonia, tuberculosis and other lung problems.

Bone Densitometry

Also called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), bone densitometry uses X-ray technology to measure bone loss and screen for osteoporosis.

Digital Mammography

For many years, conventional mammography (a breast X-ray) has converted the X-ray image into film. Digital mammography uses a special detector to convert the X-ray energy into a digital image instead of film.

Recent studies involving over 40,000 women have shown digital mammography may have an advantage over film mammography for pre-menopausal women and women who have very dense breast tissue.


Fluoroscopy takes “live” X-rays of the internal organs to show how they are functioning. This technology is often used to visualize the small intestine and large bowel.


When high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off of internal tissues, they make echoes. These echo patterns are transmitted onto the screen of the ultrasound device, where they create a picture called a sonogram.

Sonograms can show tumors, cysts, fibroids and other disorders associated with internal organs. We also use ultrasound in pregnancy to evaluate the health and growth of the developing fetus.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI uses the body’s natural magnetic properties to see inside your body without radiation. The MRI’s powerful magnet, low-intensity radio waves and computer technology create detailed images of soft tissues, muscles, nerves and bones, which help enable us to diagnose problems quickly and accurately.

We use MRI scans to better diagnose diseases such as cancer, pathologic conditions, vascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders and brain tumors.

Computed Tomography (CT)

A CT scan (also known as a CAT scan) quickly obtains two-dimensional pictures of your anatomy. On the computer, these 2-D images are presented as 3-D for in-depth clinical evaluations. We use CT scans to diagnose numerous conditions such as cancer, osteoporosis, vascular diseases and spinal problems.

Recently, innovations such as the 64-slice CT scanner have enabled us to offer very fast (less than one second) scans that cover a greater area of the body with less radiation exposure to the patient.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

A diagnostic PET scan tells us about physiological or metabolic activities that are happening in your body, such as blood flow or problems with the way the heart or brain functions. We read and evaluate these three-dimensional images to detect such diseases as cancer, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease.

PET accurately diagnoses the location and stage of malignant disease and non-invasively monitors the progress of treatment. PET is not only being used for early diagnosis of cancer, but also for heart disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.


PET/CT technology combines the physiological information from a PET and the anatomical information from a CT into one exam to provide a complete, comprehensive image of the body. Combining these two exams provides us with the ultimate picture of the body to help diagnose heart diseases, cancer and brain disorders.

PER/CT scans offer several advantages over having the two tests done separately, including a faster scan time, less radiation exposure, and detection of problems before actual physical symptoms arise.

Nuclear Medicine

Nuclear medicine produces images of the body’s anatomy and metabolic functions through the use of radioactive substances. We use it to prevent the spread of bone cancer, identify blood clots in the lungs, and scan the kidney, gallbladder, brain and other organs for abnormalities.

Interventional Radiology (IR)

Interventional radiology treats diseases without open surgery by using small catheters or needles that are guided with advanced imaging technology. IR procedures offer a number of benefits over surgery, including a faster recovery time and less pain and risk. Interventional radiologists perform a wide variety of procedures, including angiography/angioplasty, aortic stent grafts, and spinal surgery.

This Scripps Health and Wellness information was provided by Stephen Moreland, MD, chairman of radiology at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.