Interventional radiology is a medical subspecialty that uses common imaging techniques, such as ultrasound, CT and X-rays, to guide diagnostic and therapeutic tools to an area of disease within the body. Because procedures are performed through very small incisions, risks are minimized, recovery time is shortened, and hospitalizations are seldom required.
Accredited interventional radiologists have completed subspecialty training in performing interventions beyond those required of a diagnostic radiologist. While interventional radiology is a relatively new medical subspecialty, interventional radiologists are credited with having pioneered cardiac catheterization, angioplasty and stent deployment to open occluded arteries.
Usually interventional radiology procedures are performed on an outpatient basis. The interventional radiologist uses imaging techniques through a tiny incision; these procedures achieve similar or improved outcomes with shorter recovery times and lower complication rates.
Risks exist with any medical procedure and are often unique to the organ. But with interventional radiology, the risks of infection and significant bleeding are minimized because the incision is so small and because medical imaging helps guide the interventional radiologist during the procedure. Most interventional radiology procedures do not require general anesthesia, so patients are up and around more quickly and in less pain.
It’s a component of interventional radiology and the fourth pillar of comprehensive cancer care — the other three being medical oncology, surgical oncology and radiation oncology. Interventional oncologic techniques provide targeted therapies to diseased organs. Examples of interventional oncology tools include ablation (destroying solid tumors with localized extreme heat or cold), chemoembolization (precise delivery of chemotherapy to the liver) and radioembolization (precise delivery of radiation therapy to the liver).
The left column of this chart shows some conditions and the interventional radiology alternatives (middle column) to the traditional surgical procedures (right column).
| To treat
| Interventional Radiology Procedure
|| Traditional Surgical Procedure
| Uterine fibroids
|| Uterine fibroid embolization
|| Hysterectomy or myomectomy
| Peripheral arterial disease
|| Angioplasty, atherectomy, stent placement
|| Open surgical bypass
| Varicose veins
|| Thermal vein ablation, sclerotherapy
|| Surgical ligation and stripping
|| Varicocele embolization
|| Surgical ligation
|| Ablation or embolization
|| Surgical resection
| Diagnostic tissue sampling
|| Ultrasound or CT-guided biopsy
|| Open surgical biopsy
Additionally, interventional radiology allows the collection of diagnostic tissue samples through ultrasound or CT-guided biopsy. The traditional surgical technique would require an open surgical biopsy.