Radiology Technician Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between an MRI and a CT scan?

CT Scans, shortened terminology for “computed tomography”, provide very detailed images using a very high-tech, sophisticated x-ray which takes 360-degree images of vertebrae, the spine, and internal organs. Oftentimes, a contrast dye is injected prior to a person having a CT Radiology Technician Frequently Asked Questionsscan performed, to make the organs and bones more visible in the images. CT Scans are very effective for doing quicker exams, such as when a patient is admitted to the emergency room for a trauma incident.  These types of scans also work well for brain and other soft tissue trauma or bleeding.

While MRIs are similar in that they too produce cross-sectional views of the body part or organ being scanned, they do not use ionizing radiation like CT Scans. This means CT scan images show the bones of the spine far better than MRIs.  MRI Scans are better instruments for orthopedic situations (such as tears and sprains), soft tissue studies, and looking for pathology of the spine or brain (such as multiple sclerosis). MRIs can also be used to determine if cancer still exists and if so, in which part of the body. MRIs take longer to acquire images than CT Scans (up to an hour rather than a matter of minutes).

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What does mammography include?

Mammography is a specialty within the radiology field that involves using a specific type of imaging with low dose radiology to examine the breasts. This specialty requires on-the-job training and taking a set number of exams. Mammographers usually work in radiology departments and imaging centers.

What is angiography?

The field of angiography involves very highly trained radiologists called interventional radiologists. The radiology techs that assist interventional radiologists mainly run the equipment and are there for patient support. An example of where angiography is used is if a patient has had an aneurysm or blood clot in the brain or elsewhere. The interventional radiologist semploys live x-ray imaging while threading a catheter through the femoral artery until they reach the area of interest. Dye is then injected to obtain further information.

What is nuclear medicine?

Nuclear medicine involves injecting a radionuclide substance into a patient and taking images as the radiation is emitted with positron emission tomography (commonly referred to as a “PET Scan”). This field of nuclear medicine is combined with CT Scan and MRI, now referred to PET-CT and PET-MRI, which does simultaneous pet imaging and CT or MRI imaging and superimposes both images onto one another. This combined imaging highlights where the radionuclide concentrates in the body. Along with diagnostic purposes, nuclear medicine can also be used therapeutically.

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Are pregnant women the only people advised against getting x-rays?

Pregnant women should only get x-rays when absolutely necessary, and the abdomen area is always shielded with a lead apron so the baby has as little exposure as possible. There are also very strict policies in place when children have x-rays, to shielf them from unnecessary radiation. All patients getting x-rays wear a lead shield to reduce radiation explosure. These shields absorb the radiation to keep it from getting through to the organs.

What side effects can radiation cause in patients?

Extremely high doses of radiation from x-rays are rare. Those at the highest risk of side effects are individuals with cancer who have to have many CT Scans done. These scans deliver much higher doses of radiation and these individuals have to have the scans regularly to determine if and where the cancer has spread.

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How does a Radiology Tech prevent themselves from exposure to the radiation?

Each time they perform an x-ray, techs stand behind leaded glass of a certain thickness which absorbs radiation. The walls in x-ray rooms are also leaded. In addition, techs wear lead aprons in GI studies and in the ER when they are in closer contact with the patient. As an added safety precaution, techs must wear a badge that detects the amount of radiation they get over the course of a year and that dose cannot exceed a certain amount. The lifetime dose of the tech’s exposure to radiation is also tracked.


The studies where techs get the most exposure to radiation are during invasive studies and in surgery where the tech is located in close proximity to  the patient. However, to lessen this exposure the techs wear a lead apron, lead gloves, lead thyroid shields, and glasses. While it is the tech’s goal to assist and comfort  the patient as much as possible, they also stay behind the lead glass when they are able, in order to protect themselves from the radiation.

Are there any medications or special drinks one must take prior to getting an X-ray?

Upper gastrointestinal studies as well as esophagrams (swallowing studies) require the patient to drink a barium solution and may also require them to swallow baking soda crystals to create gas in the stomach.For the more invasive procedures like HSGs, VCUGs, and urography, dyes are put in the patient via injection or other means in order to obtain the necessary images.

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