The New Wave of Imaging

More Targeted Diagnosis & Treatment

From a woman with dense breast tissue to an elderly person experiencing early signs of memory loss to a former athlete in need of a hip replacement, patients today benefit from even more precise, personalized diagnosis and treatment as a result of innovation in medical imaging.


With the advent of robotically controlled ultrasound transducers, surgeons now have greater control, accuracy and precision during real-time ultrasound imaging, even at complex angles. In the past, these procedures required a surgical assistant to hold an ultrasound probe in the incision and move it around at the surgeon’s direction, while the surgeon stood at the robotic console. This new, cutting-edge technology can be controlled entirely by the surgeon, bringing much greater accuracy to the process. The ultrasound probe has already been used to help remove cancerous kidney tumors.

Positron emission tomography (PET) helps detect beta-amyloid plaque in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than five million Americans. Beta amyloid PET imaging can help predict which patients experiencing mild memory loss are likely to develop Alzheimer’s so that they and their families can plan accordingly. PET scans also play an important role in aiding in the differential diagnosis between Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, allowing physicians to map out an appropriate treatment regimen for each patient.

By combining single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) with theranostics, physicians can detect cancerous cells and deliver drugs and toxins to treat the cancer without harming nearby healthy cells. This approach has been used to treat melanoma, the deadliest of all skin cancers.

Innovative contrast agents have advanced our ability to detect changes in the body. Contrast agents contain substances that are metabolized by cells, making it possible to capture images of the function of body tissues. Nowhere is this more dramatic than with Parkinson’s disease, a chronic, progressive neurological disorder afflicting half a million Americans—including the 50,000 newly diagnosed each year. Often characterized by uncontrollable limb tremors, shuffling and a gradual decline of mental facilities, Parkinson’s disease has no known cure, but there are treatments to slow its progression, provided patients receive an early diagnosis. Physicians now use single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scans plus a new dopamine contrast agent to obtain an image of the brain that shows function. The result? More accurate early diagnosis of Parkinson’s, which allows for earlier treatment and increased treatment options for this degenerative disease.

Nearly half of all women have such dense breast tissue that conventional mammograms can miss tumors. Contrast enhanced spectral mammogram (CESM) helps optimize mammography for women with dense breasts by administering a contrast agent intravenously just before the mammogram is taken and then taking a second image that captures blood flow in the breast. This technology provides a much clearer image, takes only a few minutes to perform and can be done with standard mammography equipment – which is convenient and cost-saving. Additionally, when molecular breast imaging (MBI) is used in conjunction with mammography, the likelihood of tumor detection increases significantly. MBI can also help rule out cancer more conclusively when a mammogram is indeterminate, which, in turn, prevents unnecessary biopsies.

Surgical skills, improved techniques and well-crafted joints have reduced complications for the estimated one million people who must have their knees or hips replaced annually in the United States, but 10 percent of patients still require follow-up surgery due to inflammation. Detecting inflammation early can help patients avoid additional surgery, but can be difficult since the metal in joint replacements often distorts standard magnetic resonance images (MRI). Thanks to a new acquisition technique and post-processing software, modified MRI technology makes imaging of artificial joints more feasible, so physicians can pinpoint early signs of inflammation and help patients avoid additional surgery. That’s an important advance, because by 2030, more than 3.5 million people are projected to receive new hips and knees annually.

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) use robotic positioning and real-time, continuous imaging to guide radiation therapy with sub-millimeter precision. Because it limits harm to nearby tissues and organs, noninvasive radiosurgery can treat spinal tumors without causing paralysis. In fact, one study found that radiosurgery decreased spinal tumor pain by 85 percent and was 90 percent effective in controlling spinal tumors locally. The flexibility of this technology also means that it can be used to fight tumors anywhere in the body, and patients don’t need to recover from surgery—or stitches.

Musculoskeletal conditions such as scoliosis, osteoarthritis, spine and joint pain and osteoporosis affect a large population. Given the substantial public health cost of treating these conditions, medical imaging is critical to a timely, accurate diagnosis. New whole body, low-dose 3D imaging technologies provide a holistic view of the entire musculoskeletal system so that patients do not have to undergo multiple scans. Plus, the exam can be conducted in less than four minutes, thereby increasing efficiency and minimizing patient wait times.

PET Imaging

A study of 19 university hospital centers in the United States and Europe found that imaging significantly improved the clinical management and diagnosis of patients with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.