Understanding Radiology and Radiation Therapy


Both radiation therapy and radiology are essential components of most cancer treatments and diagnoses. The similarity in names can get a patient confused by what each one means or does for them. Cancer care requires a multidisciplinary system with various procedures to address the unique needs of each patient.

Radiation therapy and radiology use distinct technologies and techniques to serve different purposes in cancer care as explained below:

  • Radiology – In cancer care, radiology is a procedure that utilizes medical imaging to diagnose and treat various forms of cancer. One or more imaging tests can be performed on a patient to identify the precise location of the cancer cells or confirm a cancer diagnosis and determine the appropriate treatment plan.

Radiologic technologists or radiologists are experts who conduct radiology tests, read and interpret the results. Interventional radiologists can diagnose and treat cancer using minimally invasive procedures such as image-guided technology. Some of the imaging techniques implemented in radiology include digital radiography (X-rays, fluoroscopy), CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds, PET scans, and SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography). The techniques can help to locate, stage and diagnose various forms of cancers.

  • Radiation therapy – Radiation therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses high beams of radiation to target and kill or shrink cancer cells and tumors respectively. Treatment can be administered externally through external beam radiation therapy or implanted internally through brachytherapy. Radiation therapy can be administered as a single treatment or in combination with other therapies such as chemotherapy or surgery.  It can also be used as palliative radiation to help in reducing pain and suffering for patients with an advanced form of cancer.

Various specialists participate in radiation therapy. They include radiation therapists, radiographers, radiologists, radiation oncologists, and interventional radiologists. They perform different roles in the overall radiation therapy. Such roles include delivering treatment, performing imaging tests, interpreting test results treating cancer using radiation or other minimally invasive procedures respectively.

Radiology and radiation therapy are correlated. They both use radiation as a therapeutic and diagnostic tool to help in cancer care.

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