About radiology

Mark Bartholomew, deputy CT superintendant, and Sherrie Mokrian, radiographer

What is radiology?

Radiology is a medical specialty that uses imaging to diagnose and treat diseases seen within the body. Radiologists use a variety of imaging techniques such as X-ray, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), nuclear medicine including positron emission tomography (PET), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose and/or treat diseases.

Find out more about radiology techniques.

Interventional radiology is the performance of (usually minimally invasive) medical procedures with the guidance of imaging technologies.

Find out more about interventional radiology.

The radiology department may also be called the X-ray or imaging department. It is the facility in the hospital where radiological examinations of patients are carried out, using the range of equipment listed above.

What is a radiologist?

A radiologist is a specially trained doctor who interprets diagnostic imaging to guide the management of disease. If you have an interventional procedure (such as an angiogram or biopsy) a specially trained radiologist called an interventional radiologist will perform the procedure. Radiologists provide a scan report which is then sent to your doctor.

Radiographers perform a CT scan

What is a radiographer?

A diagnostic radiographer is a person who has been trained to take your X-ray or perform your MRI or CT scan. If trained to perform an ultrasound a radiographer is known as a sonographer. Radiographers also support a radiologist in performing interventional procedures.

Diagnostic radiographers employ a range of techniques to produce high quality images to diagnose disease. Some radiographers are also trained to provide reports on X-ray imaging. 
The identification and monitoring of diseases, skeletal and soft tissue abnormalities and trauma are the major focus of diagnostic radiography.

Radiographers use a range of techniques including:

  • X-rays – used to look through tissue to examine bones, cavities and foreign objects. May be used with contrast agents to provide a live motion image, eg fluoroscopy to image the digestive system, or angiography to investigate blood vessels
  • CT (computed tomography) – provides cross-sectional views (slices) of the body allowing disease to be identified and localised
  • nuclear medicine – uses radioactive tracers which can be administered to examine how the body and organs function, for example the kidneys or heart. Certain radioisotopes can also be administered to treat particular cancers such as thyroid cancer.

Techniques that do not use ionising radiation are:

  • Ultrasound – uses high frequency sound. This technique is widely used in obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics and for patients with abdominal, vascular or musculoskeletal conditions
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – provides high quality imaging of body parts without the need for radiation.

Therapeutic radiographers

Therapeutic radiographers play a vital role in the delivery of radiotherapy services. They are the only health professionals qualified to plan and deliver radiotherapy. They constitute over 50% of the radiotherapy workforce working with clinical oncologists, medial physicists and engineers. Therapeutic radiographers are also involved in giving radiotherapy treatment to cancer patients.