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Radiologists are medical doctors who use imaging techniques to treat and diagnose conditions and injuries.

There are different types of radiologists with different specialties or functions. Some oversee cancer treatments or perform minimally invasive surgeries to treat a range of conditions.

Keep reading to learn more about what radiologists do.

Radiologist vs. radiographer

Radiologists and radiographers both perform essential functions.

Radiologists interpret imaging scans to make diagnoses. They may recommend treatment options or use imaging equipment during procedures. Radiologists typically need at least 13 years of training, including medical school and residency.

Radiographers perform scans such as X-rays and CT scans. They may specialize in certain types of imaging. They maintain equipment and prepare patients to have images taken. Radiographers usually need state licensure and post-secondary education, such as an associate’s degree.

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There are three main types of radiologists. Each type may further specialize in a specific area of practice.

Diagnostic radiologists

Diagnostic radiologists interpret medical images to diagnose conditions. They may recommend a course of treatment or further testing. These doctors typically work in hospital settings.

They may specialize in specific types of exams that target parts or systems of the body, such as:

  • brain and nervous system
  • cardiovascular radiology (heart and circulatory system)
  • chest radiology (lungs and heart)
  • gastrointestinal radiology (stomach, abdomen, and intestines)
  • head and neck
  • mammograms (breast)
  • muscles and skeleton
  • pediatric radiology
  • reproductive and urinary systems

Some diagnostic radiologists also specialize in emergency radiology.

Interventional radiologists

Interventional radiologists use imaging to both diagnose conditions and treat people. They use imaging technology to help during procedures.

Conditions they may help treat include:

Most of these surgical techniques require the radiologist to insert a small piece of equipment through a tiny incision in the skin. These are called minimally invasive procedures. They are an alternative to open surgery.

Global demand for these types of procedures with interventional radiologists has been increasing, according to a 2018 summary of the European Society of Radiology’s 2017 meeting. Authors note these procedures often provide better outcomes at lower costs.

Radiation oncologists

Radiation oncologists are doctors who treat cancer with radiation. They prescribe, administer, oversee, and adjust radiation treatment to provide the right care to each person.

These doctors also identify any side effects of radiation and recommend treatments. They work closely with other members of a cancer care team.

Radiologists play an important role in many aspects of healthcare. They can provide diagnostic services for other doctors. They can also talk directly with patients about their treatment.

Radiologists may review and interpret the following types of imaging:

Radiologists may also be involved in surgeries. Some radiologists may:

  • perform angioplasty to treat blockages in arteries
  • block blood vessels to shrink tumors
  • use heat and freezing to destroy tumors
  • perform minimally invasive biopsies
  • drain blocked organ systems, like the liver, kidney, or gallbladder
  • prevent or stop bleeding from an artery
  • place a stent to treat an aneurysm (expanded artery) to prevent it from rupturing

If a radiologist is involved in your surgery, they may check in with you before the procedure. They may also follow up with you during the recovery period.

Radiologists must complete many years of formal education. According to the American College of Radiology, these doctors complete at least 13 years of training. This includes:

  • an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree
  • medical school
  • a 4-year residency in a hospital or clinic
  • a 1- to 2-year fellowship in a certain specialty

Like all medical doctors, radiologists must hold a valid license in the state they practice. Some may choose to become board certified by passing a special exam and meeting the requirements of the American Board of Radiology.

If you are about to undergo treatment, you can typically research your radiologist’s educational background and licensure through the website of the state medical board.

What education or certifications do radiographers need?

Radiographers and MRI technologists typically need an associate’s degree. Some may also complete bachelor’s degrees or graduate certificates. Most states require radiographers to have a license to practice, but few states require MRI technologists to be licensed.

In states where you need a license, you may have to complete an accredited educational program through one of the following:

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Radiologists are medical doctors with specialized training. While radiographers and MRI technologists take imaging scans using special equipment, radiologists interpret those scans.

Radiologists can make diagnoses and recommend treatment. Those who specialize in interventional radiology may also perform or assist in surgeries. If they specialize in radiation oncology, they can oversee radiation therapy in cancer treatment.