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4 Ways Medical Imaging Can Save Lives Through Early Detection

4 Ways Medical Imaging Can Save Lives Through Early Detection

As medical imaging technologies advance in performance and capability, their applications span an array of preventative and diagnostic procedures. Over the past decade, some studies estimate that the number of medical imaging procedures performed, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans, have increased by two to three times. Physicians use medical imaging techniques as primary testing or diagnostic methods for a variety of different conditions.


Tumors have widespread implications based on their type, quantity, size, and location. Many types of cancer manifest as tumors — colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, and more. Various imaging modalities can be used to screen for cancerous tissue and to further investigate implications of tumors or irregularities. Common imaging procedures used in tumor or cancer detection include MRIs, CT scans, and contrast-enhanced X-ray examinations (applying contrast agents before performing a scan to allow for better imaging). An integrated positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET-CT) scan is also popular because it combines collecting CT and PET images into one procedure by collecting each image type one after the other using the same machine.

Utilizing various medical imaging techniques helps physicians more accurately locate and diagnose foreign bodies and tumors. For instance, some studies correlate the increase in brain tumor survival rates (estimated to be more than 10 percentage points) over the past 30 years to the development of medical imaging techniques and their improved accuracy. Medical imaging allows physicians to detect and treat tumors and cancers more quickly and appropriately.


Though concussions are damaging at any age, concussions are especially dangerous to children because of their brains’ developing states and the additional impact brain trauma can inflict. Much effort has been invested into ramping up procedural guidelines for identifying and treating concussions in recent years. Medical imaging techniques are utilized in ever-increasing applications to help recognize concussions. Recent advances include a breakthrough study that revealed an MRI’s ability to reveal chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition previously only detectable via post-mortem autopsy. Because of the advances made to medical imaging technologies, their application to concussion detection will most likely increase over the coming years.

CT scans are already being applied in brain trauma situations when the case is severe enough to immediately cause significant symptoms (i.e. loss of consciousness, seizures, vomiting, loss of vision, etc.). CT scans are useful in this situation because of their speed and their ability to reveal bleeding in the brain. In the few days to a few weeks after a concussion or possible concussion, medical professionals are also beginning to use MRI scans due to their ability to reveal subtle soft-tissue differences or injuries in the brain. Together, MRIs and CT scans are becoming prevalent in concussion diagnosis.

Blood Clots

Blood clots, known as deep vein thrombosis or DVT) can be extremely dangerous and can also be difficult to locate within the body. Common symptoms include pain or swelling along a vein in one of the extremities, pain in the chest or left arm in the case of clots near or in the heart, and painful breathing, shortness of breath, or coughing when a blood clot affects the lungs. Utilizing medical imaging in various forms is already standard procedure to help diagnose and locate blood clots. Among the first imaging tests commonly conducted when a blood clot is suspected is a Doppler ultrasound, which allows the examiner to view the movement of blood through a vein. This can reveal blood clots in the part of the body being examined by showing when blood is flowing too slowly or perhaps not moving at all.

Depending on the situation, a physician may alternatively or additionally request a CT venogram. This procedure utilizes computed tomography to collect images of a vein suspected of being blocked by a clot. This type of imaging requires that a dye be injected into the vein before undergoing the scan to ensure visibility. Within the past fifteen years, venographic ultrasounds have also been used to view vein blockages by using sonography to collect the imaging. However, studies comparing the two methods have favored the results achieved with CT venographic combined with CT pulmonary angiography. Some studies show an increase in detection accuracy by multiple percentage points when utilizing both methods during an examination.

In addition to these imaging techniques, MRIs and MRAs (magnetic resonance angiography scans) are also utilized to investigate implications of DVT. Early detection is crucial to avoid further complications from blood clots. Medical imaging provides dependable, accurate data that helps prevent misdiagnosis and non diagnosis that could prove dangerous or even lethal to blood clot patients.


Medical imaging procedures are also proving themselves useful in cancer detection. The National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), a study conducted over a period of three years and involving over 50,000 participants, compared the effectiveness of conventional chest X-rays to Low-Dose Computed Tomography (LDCT) scans in early detection of lung cancer. While past smaller studies have been inconclusive, the results of the NLST show a higher rate of cancer detection in subject groups that received LDCT scans than the groups that received X-ray scans. The research also suggested that the resulting detection and resulting recovery rate we could expect by using regular screenings to facilitate lung cancer detection could provide a strong risk/benefit ratio. In fact, initial indications appear that it could be even stronger than more commonly accepted forms of regular medical screenings like those for breast cancer and colon cancer.

From preventing unnecessary surgeries to revealing conditions undetectable by other forms of testing, medical imaging can provide huge benefits to patients who suffer from a spectrum of various ailments and problems.

Learn More

The Adventist University of Health Sciences Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Sciences online degree offers working imaging professionals an expanded opportunity to learn the technical, medical and people skills to help them continue their professional growth. Whether your goal is to provide a higher level of patient care or to advance your career by moving into management, education, consulting, or industry, the place to begin is with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Sciences degree.

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