The Evolving Science of Radiology

The science of medical imaging by passing X-radiation through the flesh in order visualize the internal bone structure of the body was facilitated by the discovery of X-Rays by Wilhelm Rontgen way back in 1895. Since then medical radiology has developed into an independent and worthy medical profession with several path breaking technological discoveries that have benefitted mankind tremendously.
World Radiology Day – November 8
Radiology today has developed into an important field of medical science and uses a variety of imaging techniques in order to detect diseases. Some of the most marvelous techniques include X-Ray, Ultrasound, CT scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET).
As the world celebrates 3rd World Radiology Day on November 8 organised by the European Society of Radiology and Radiological Society of North America, with one of the celebratory themes this year being brain imaging, let us look back at the evolving science of radiology.
Historical evolution of radiology
Radiology has now existed for over a century and began with the discovery of X-rays. Although the discovery was related to physics, it soon found its way into hospitals and medical institutions where X-ray machines began to be used for diagnosis. The first X-ray images were obtained on glass plates. Film plates were introduced by George Eastman in 1918. X-rays from the very beginning were used to detect a wide range of bodily abnormalities. Gradually, more sophisticated techniques developed. In 1950s, there came image intensifier and X-ray television. At the same time the use of high-frequency sound waves to visualize soft tissues of the body began from 1950s and became popular in 1960s. This was the birth of the ultrasound scanning which became widely popular for tracking the progressive development of foetuses and gastro-intestinal abnormalities. In 1970s, CT scanning principles were introduced. Godrey Hounsfield, an English electrical engineer, developed the Computer Tomography (CT) scanner when he took X-ray images of what is inside a box from all angles and put them together with the help of a computer and principles of theoretical mathematics by Allan McLeod Cormack. This was improved by Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in the 1970s and images were obtained on 1977. These technological developments have replaced some of the earlier methods and X-ray photographs can now be scanned and stored digitally.
Development of radiology as a profession
The earliest X-ray machines were handled by doctors themselves. However, from 1903, radiography assistants were hired to operate the machines. Gradually training schools and professional associations of radiographers came up. The Society of Radiographers was formed in 1920. Today, radiology is a thriving medical discipline with several areas of specialization. Some important areas or branches are:

  • Radiographer (diagnostic and therapeutic)
  • Sonographer
  • Radiologist or Oncologist

A diagnostic radiographer works within the radiology and imaging department and uses a variety of imaging techniques to detect bodily abnormalities. A therapeutic radiographer works closely with doctors and nurses within a radiology department to treat patients with cancer. A sonographer requires high skills to use ultra sound waves in order to visualize soft tissues of the body. Finally, a radiologist specializes in the detection of cancerous cells through the use of various investigative techniques.
Importance of radiography
Today radiography is used in almost all hospitals and clinics. Medical imaging is used to diagnose a variety of diseases. Basic radiography is used to detect broken bones etc. Ultrasound is used especially for pregnant woman while CT scan is preferred for obtaining brain images. Oncology uses radiography along with a variety of other techniques for cancer patients. Apart from the field of medicine, radiography is also used for airport security and cargo scanning. The importance of radiography is a technique and radiology as a medical discipline and profession can hardly be overemphasized. Both Rontgen and Godfrey Hounsfield richly deserved their Nobel prizes. We are surely better off because of their discoveries.

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