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04 May 2022

What is a radiologist?

scans 4 minutes reading time

A radiologist is a board-certified medical doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases and injuries using medical imaging techniques. When you get sent for a diagnostic imaging scan, a radiologist is the doctor who looks at the scan and can see if there is an injury, disease, or abnormality in your body.

They’re well-trained for the job, too: radiologists have to do a minimum of 13 years of training to become a doctor in this field of medicine (including medical school, a 4-year residency, and often a 1- or 2-year fellowship after that).

There are general radiologists and specialty diagnostic radiologists. General radiologists can read imaging scans of any kind and do not specialize in one particular disease or area of the body, while specialty radiologists focus on specific body parts, systems, and diseases.

What does a radiologist do?

Your liver is the largest organ inside your body, and it’s responsible for digesting your food, extracting nutrients, storing energy, and filtering toxins. When there is a functional impairment in your liver, it’s called hepatic disease. Hepatic disease can be viral, alcohol- or diet-induced, inherited, autoimmune, and cancer-related, and can cause a number of physical symptoms.1

What are the different types of radiology?

There are many specialties and subspecialties in radiology.2

General radiology. Though general radiology is a less popular career track for emerging radiologists these days, a general radiologist receives the same core training as a specialty radiologist. General radiologists are qualified to assess and diagnose medical conditions on all the different types of imaging scans.

Intervention Radiology. Specialty diagnostic radiologists called “interventional radiologists” use MRIs and X-rays during minimally invasive surgical procedures. During surgery, the MRI or X-ray serves as a real-time visual aid for radiologists. This is helpful because the surgical instruments they’re using are so small. Being able to see what they’re doing on the imaging scan helps doctors guide their instruments with precision and administer treatment.3

Radiation oncology. Similarly, “radiation oncologists” are doctors who specialize in treating cancer or certain noncancerous conditions using targeted radiation. They often work in coordination with a larger team of medical oncologists, surgeons, and other treating physicians to treat patients with medical conditions that are best treated with radiation. Because cancer treatment is a constantly evolving field, radiation oncologists stay up-to-date through training and ongoing education on the safest and most successful ways to treat all kinds of cancer.4

Which diagnostic imaging scan will my radiologist use?

Diagnostic imaging scans give radiologists a highly detailed picture of what’s going on in the area of the body they’re focused on. Here’s a breakdown of the five main scans and the conditions they can assess and diagnose.5

  1. MRIs are used to diagnose a wide range of medical conditions, and frequently spot joint or tendon injuries, blood vessel issues, tumors, aneurysms, strokes, multiple sclerosis (MS), and spinal cord disorders. An MRI might take up to 45 minutes or an hour, depending on whether you are having a test with or without contrast. It produces images using magnetic waves.
  2. X-rays are typically used to assess and diagnose conditions like arthritis and other bone disease, medical traumas like swallowed objects and broken bones, certain infections, and even digestive tract issues. An X-ray typically takes 10 to 15 minutes and produces images using ionizing radiation.
  3. CT scans are used to diagnose injuries from medical traumas, bone fractures, certain infections, heart disease, cancers and tumors, and diseases that impact blood flow in your arteries and veins (vascular disease). They are also used to guide biopsies (when a small sample of tissue or cells is taken from the body for closer examination). A CT scan typically takes 15 to 30 minutes, but may take longer depending on whether you are having a test with or without contrast. Like an X-ray, a CT scan produces images using ionizing radiation.
  4. Ultrasounds are used to monitor pregnancies and diagnose medical issues like joint inflammation, genital and prostate issues, breast lumps, blood flow problems, and gallbladder disease. Like CT scans, they can be used to guide biopsies. An ultrasound typically takes 30 minutes to an hour and produces images using high-frequency sound waves.
  5. PET scans are used to diagnose heart disease, cancer, and neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, seizures, and epilepsy. PET scans tend to last longer than the other imaging scans–typically 1.5 to 2 hours–because they’re watching the radiotracers you’ve either swallowed or had injected before entering the scanning machine.

How can radiologists help me?

Medical diagnoses begin in the land of guessing games and process of elimination. After all, your doctor can’t peer inside your body as you sit on the exam table and see what’s causing your symptoms. Radiology’s value is in how much guesswork it can eliminate. And once you know what’s going on inside your body, you can work with your doctors to make a treatment plan and start taking the next indicated steps.

Are there medical imaging centers near me?

Some doctors or medical practices regularly work with certain imaging centers and automatically refer their patients who need scans there. But remember: you can always talk with your doctor if you have other options in mind. That includes doing your own research.

Regardless of the reason for your choice–be it proximity to your home, the recommendation of someone you trust, or a ton of impressive reviews–you get to choose where you get your diagnostic imaging done.

You can easily locate an imaging center near you by using scan.com’s scan search tool.


  1. medlineplus.gov: Diagnostic Imaging
  2. theabr.org: Radiology Specialties
  3. acr.org: What Is a Radiologist?
  4. mayoclinic.org: Radiation Oncology
  5. blog.radiology.virginia.edu: Different Imaging Tests, Explained

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