The Difference Between Diagnostic Radiology, Radiation Therapy and Interventional Radiology

radiation therapy

At first glance, these three disciplines within veterinary medicine seem pretty much the same, but at the Animal Medical Center, diagnostic radiology, radiation therapy, and interventional radiology represent three different groups of veterinarians with three very different sets of background and training. What ties these three disparate groups together is their use of radiation to diagnose and treat disease.

Diagnostic Radiology
These days you are more likely to find a Department of Diagnostic Imaging in a hospital than a Radiology Department. Radiology is an older term, used when x-rays were the only testing modality using radiation available in medicine. Today, AMC’s Diagnostic Imaging Service uses not only traditional x-rays but also ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the diagnostic evaluation of patients. AMC’s Diagnostic Imaging Service also has a fluoroscopy unit, which is like a video x-ray. This machine allows us to watch bodily functions like blood flow or swallowing in real time. To see an example of fluoroscopy, read about Molly the Ganaraskan. Every veterinarian at AMC depends on our diagnostic imaging team for their expertise in imaging sick pets and helping us to make an accurate diagnosis.

Radiation Therapy
A very accurate description, AMC’s Radiation Oncology Service uses radiation to treat tumors. Specifically, we have a linear accelerator (linac), a giant machine that creates various types of radiation depending on patient needs. Our state-of-the-art linac can make electrons for superficial treatments, produce high energy pinpoint beams for stereotactic radiosurgery, and stereotactic body radiation therapy. Diagnostic Imaging’s CT scanner interfaces with Radiation Oncology’s 3-D computer planning system. The interface allows the linac’s multileaf collimator to sculpt the radiation beam to precisely target the tumor being treated. The veterinarians working in radiation therapy have training in both the physics of radiation as well as the management of cancer.

Interventional Radiology
Specialists in interventional radiology use minimally invasive techniques to make image-guided diagnoses and also deploy high tech treatments for a variety of diseases. Using a range of techniques which rely on the use of images generated by diagnostic radiology equipment such as fluoroscopy, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI imaging, the interventional radiologist precisely targets various organs with treatments such as stents, occluders and medications. Watch a video where AMC’s interventional radiology team uses fluoroscopy to close off abnormal blood vessels in the liver. The veterinarians in our Interventional Radiology Service have diverse backgrounds in surgery, internal medicine plus specialized training to use minimally invasive equipment.

Linked together by their use of radiation as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool, diagnostic radiology, radiation therapy and interventional radiology are just a few of the highly trained specialists at AMC working to make sick pets healthy again.

Laser Therapy at AMC

laser therapy

A laser is not a thing; it is an acronym which stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Clearly, laser is simpler. But there is nothing simple about lasers used in medicine. Lasers produce a very narrowly focused beam of light which can be very precisely aimed. Lasers also produce light restricted to a certain wavelength. Restricted wavelengths produce a specific color of light. Lasers can produce visible light or one that cannot be seen by the human eye. Lasers produce beautiful music in our CD players, term papers from our laser printers, and decorate our houses for Christmas. Lasers are important medically and at the Animal Medical Center, we use lasers every day, in many of our 17 key specialties.

Types of Lasers
Lasers convert energy into light. The inside of the laser contains mirrors which bounce the light back and forth, increasing its intensity. The light is also amplified by the medium contained inside the laser. This medium could be a crystal such as the holmium:YAG (yttrium-aluminum-garnet) lasers, a gas, like the carbon dioxide laser, or a semiconductor which is found in a diode laser. The amplified light produced by a laser is both powerful and precise. Each type of laser has different properties and accordingly, different medical uses. The wavelength of the laser light determines how deeply the light penetrates and determines if the laser treats superficially or deeply.

Glaucoma is a painful eye condition where excess fluid accumulates in the eye, increasing intraocular pressure. AMC’s ophthalmologist uses a diode laser to ablate the intraocular structure (ciliary body) producing intraocular fluid, helping to control the pain without surgery.

Dentistry and Surgery  
These two groups of specialists use the carbon dioxide laser, often for oral surgery. AMC’s veterinary dentists occasionally use the carbon dioxide laser for treatment of oral inflammation that does not respond to other therapies, while the surgeons use it for shortening a long soft palate or removal of oral masses. The laser is favored for these types of procedures because it not only makes a superficial incision and precisely excises tissue, but the CO2 laser also seals blood vessels and nerves, decreasing intraoperative hemorrhage and postoperative pain.

Interventional Radiology/Endoscopy 
Using their powerful holmium:YAG laser, the veterinarians on the Intervention Radiology/Endoscopy Service pulverize bladder and kidney stones, allowing the smaller pieces to be passed in the urine and thus be removed out without surgery. Like AMC’s ophthalmologist, the Interventional Service also uses a diode laser to close abnormal ureters or remove bleeding polyps and masses.

Integrative & Rehabilitative Medicine
Multiple different lasers are used as part of rehabilitation therapy for dogs and cats at AMC. Our veterinarians use infrared diode lasers that emit a combination of continuous and pulsed waves to help manage pain associated with osteoarthritis and tendinitis, mange chronic wounds, and even as a feature of therapeutic acupuncture.

Radiation Oncology 
Radiation oncologists use lasers every day, and as part of radiation therapy, but not therapeutically. Each patient requires a personalized treatment plan. As part of that plan, the pet’s skin is marked with indelible ink. Laser lights are integral to the radiation machine and are aligned on the skin marks to ensure accurate positioning of the pet for each and every treatment. Accuracy improves cancer control and decreases unwanted effects.

Lasers are high-tech medical devices. Your veterinarian will l help you determine if laser therapy is right for your pet and will choose the appropriate type of laser to meet your pet’s medical needs.