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  • Writer's pictureFrancesco Bruno Tagliaferro

What is Interventional Radiology?

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Interventional radiology is a medical specialty that uses radiological imaging modalities, such as X-rays, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound, to perform minimally invasive surgery. In fact, radiological imaging techniques make it possible to "look" inside the body without damaging it, and therefore allow surgical instruments and treatment targets to be visualized without the need to carry out invasive surgical procedures.

Sala angiografica
Angiography suite

Interventional Radiology, although little known to the general public, is nonetheless a very widespread medical branch, and is present in most hospitals, certainly in medium and large ones.

Dott. CT Dotter, il "padre" della radiologia interventistica
Dr. Dotter, the "father" of Interventional Radiology

The origins of interventional radiology can be traced back to the early 20th century when physicians began using X-rays for diagnostic purposes. However, the interventional field really began to develop in the 1960s, when technological advances, such as improved imaging techniques and endovascular catheter-based interventions, allowed for more precise and targeted procedures.

Over the years, interventional radiology has evolved and expanded, incorporating new imaging technologies and innovative procedures.

Interventional radiology has made significant innovations in modern medicine. Its minimally invasive nature has broadened treatment options for many conditions, providing viable alternatives to traditional surgical approaches and increasingly becoming first-line therapy. This has led to better patient outcomes and more treatment options. Interventional radiology has played a crucial role in the advancement of precision medicine by combining imaging technologies with targeted therapies.

Interventional radiology procedures are minimally invasive, meaning they typically require only small incisions or punctures, resulting in less trauma, shorter hospital stays, and faster recovery times for patients. Additionally, these procedures often avoid the need for general anesthesia, making them suitable for patients who may be at increased risk for surgery. For these reasons, Interventional Radiology can often be performed on an outpatient basis or with a very short hospital stay, one to two nights at most, which reduces healthcare costs and improves patient comfort.

Interventional radiology procedures include a wide range of diagnostic and therapeutic techniques, such as:

Angiography: the angiography allows the real-time study of blood vessels through the injection of contrast medium (a radio-opaque liquid drug, which can therefore be visualized with x-rays) and the simultaneous administration of x-rays. It is performed to diagnose and treat conditions such as arterial blockages, aneurysms, or arteriovenous malformations.

Balloon angioplasty and stenting: this procedure is used to widen narrowed or blocked blood vessels using a balloon-tipped catheter. In some cases, a stent (a small mesh tube) may be placed to help keep the vessel open.

Embolization: this is the deliberate and controlled blockage of certain blood vessels, done to stop bleeding by occluding a torn vessel, or to treat various conditions such as tumors, aneurysms, or abnormal blood vessel formations.

Biopsies and Drains: Interventional radiologists can use imaging guidance to perform minimally invasive biopsies (tissue sampling) and placement of drainage catheters in multiple locations (percutaneous biliary drainage pictured)

Tumor ablation: This technique involves using various sources of energy (such as radiofrequency, microwaves, or cryotherapy) to destroy tumors without the need for open surgery, by inserting one or more needles into the target mass using guides the radiological images.

The field of interventional radiology requires a high level of technological, medical and technical-manual expertise. Interventional radiologists work with state-of-the-art imaging equipment, including advanced X-ray systems, CT scanners, MRI machines, and ultrasound devices. They must have a deep knowledge of the various imaging modalities, as well as proficiency in the use of minimally invasive surgical instruments and devices, typical of Interventional Radiology. Additionally, interventional radiologists work closely with other medical specialists to develop personalized treatment plans and provide comprehensive patient care.

In Italy, to become an interventional radiologist it is first necessary to obtain a degree in Medicine and Surgery, and then to obtain a specialization in Radiology. During specialization, but also afterward, doctors interested in Interventional Radiology deepen this area specifically by following complementary and additional training, often attending Specialist Centers with a high volume of procedures, both in Italy and abroad.

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