Interventional radiology is a branch of radiology in which physicians specialize in minimally invasive and targeted treatments with the use of imaging for guidance. Interventional radiologists combine their expertise in performing procedures with their knowledge of routine diagnostic imaging. Interventional radiology procedures are minimally invasive, meaning that they use a small skin nick to get to the target and perform a treatment. This often makes surgery unnecessary, decreases associated risks, and shortens recovery time.
Interventional radiologists work closely with physicians from other specialties (including surgery, internal medicine, hematology / oncology, and obstetrics / gynecology) to coordinate treatment and provide the best possible care for patients. They can treat a variety of problems. For example, blocked arteries that decrease circulation can be treated with balloon angioplasty to reopen them. Venous clots in the lower extremities are a common problem that can sometimes be treated by thrombolysis. Thrombolysis involves an interventional radiologist using a small tube to deliver clot-busting medication directly to the clot. Interventional radiologists can also help treat some cancers with chemoembolization. This method delivers a high dose of chemotherapy directly to the tumor using a small plastic tube. Fibroids (non-cancerous tumors of the uterus) can be treated by decreasing their blood supply which causes the fibroids to shrink and scar down, thereby avoiding surgery.
Interventional radiologists are first trained as diagnostic radiologists and have full knowledge of x-rays, ultrasound, CT, MRI, and other radiology tools. They subsequently receive additional specialized training in performing procedures and minimally invasive treatments. This specialized training is certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties.