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A Less Invasive Approach: Learn More About Interventional Radiology

Medical specialist wearing glasses holding up and reviewing a patient’s x-ray
Medical specialist reviewing an X-ray

(Tina Dawn/ VM Med) — As we navigate an increasingly taxed healthcare system and a post-pandemic world that recognizes the importance of reducing virus and infection exposure, minimally invasive procedures will become more popular as both medical professionals and patients choose to prioritize them.

One procedure that’s certain to gain ground is interventional radiology, also known as image-guided therapy, which is the use of medical imaging techniques to guide doctors as they diagnose and treat certain problems with blood vessels and lymph vessels throughout the body. 

Interventional radiology requires the presence of radiology technicians, trained to administer the contrast dye needed for the procedure, among other specialized skills. Their imaging expertise is necessary for the procedure, which uses medical imaging that may also include fluoroscopy (a specialized X-ray camera), an MRI, CT scan, and ultrasound, to guide minimally invasive surgical procedures that diagnose, treat, and cure many types of conditions. 

Interventional radiologists basically guide needles and wire-looking medical equipment through the patient’s body while looking at the medical images projected on the screen.

Examples of interventional procedures

Diagnostic radiology is primarily used to diagnose and treat diseases. Interventional radiologists can specialize in vascular intervention, mammography, chest and cardiac imaging, neuroimaging, abdominal imaging, and pediatric imaging. 

Basic interventional radiology procedures also involve image-guided fine-needle aspiration cytology and biopsy, core biopsy, needle aspiration and drainage.

Several important procedures rely on interventional radiologists. For example, a needle biopsy is a process where a radiologist puts a small needle into the body, guided by imaging techniques, to take a tissue biopsy, like a needle breast biopsy, and therefore eliminates the need for surgery. 

Interventional radiologists contribute significantly to the care of patients affected by breast cancer, in diagnostic and supportive procedures and most certainly in treatment. In certain cancer treatments, your medical professional can use interventional radiology to inject cancer-killing therapies like chemotherapy and radioactive medicines directly onto tumours and cancer cells. In addition, interventional radiologists can carry out image-guided biopsies not only of the primary tumour but also of any metastases. They also insert percutaneous ports and tunnelled central venous catheters, which is a catheter that’s placed under the skin in a vein, allowing long-term access to the vein.

Other common procedures involving interventional radiology are angiographies –an X-ray of the arteries and veins to find a blockage or a narrowing of the vessels– and angioplasties –placing a small balloon-tipped catheter into a blood vessel and inflating the balloon to open a blockage inside the vessel.

Interventional radiologists are also responsible for stent placement, the placement of a small wire mesh tube that helps keep the artery open, decreasing its chance of narrowing again. Uterine fibroid removal also relies on interventional radiology.

Why do we use interventional radiology? 

There are many reasons why interventional radiology is preferable over traditional treatments.

The concept behind the procedure is to diagnose and treat patients using the least invasive techniques currently available. This is done in order to minimize risk to the patient and improve health outcomes. Interventional radiology procedures tend to have less risk, less pain, and less recovery time in comparison to traditional surgery methods. 

In many cases, interventional radiology eliminates the need for a hospital stay, which is great for both the patient and our healthcare system. No one wants to be hospitalized if they don’t have to, and with hospitalization being more expensive, interventional radiology can also translate to significant cost savings for our healthcare system as a whole.

Interventional radiology procedures also don’t require general anesthesia, which is associated with higher risks for patients and is usually unavoidable with most traditional surgery.  In most cases, a patient undergoing an interventional radiology procedure will simply require local anesthesia and most procedures can be done in an outpatient setting, like at a same-day surgery centre, which significantly decreases both stress and any recovery time.

VM Med offers patients comprehensive medical imaging services with on-site access to all imaging modalities including a wide-open MRI to accommodate patients who may feel claustrophobic. 

The clinic offers several interventional procedures such as stereotactic, ultrasound or MRI guided breast biopsies as well as image guided thyroid biopsies. The clinic’s radiologists are accredited by Accreditation Canada, and by the Canadian Association of Radiologists in Mammography.

Still have questions? Book a consultation with our experts.