What Is Interventional Radiology?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on August 03, 2022

Interventional radiology (IR) is a way to diagnose and treat cancer and other conditions without major surgery.

With IR, your doctor looks inside your body with imaging tests such as ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRIs. Then they use small tools, like needles and tubes, to do a procedure or give treatment right where you need it.

During these procedures, your doctor can put tools into your body through tiny cuts that can be as small as a pinhole.

Interventional radiology helps with cancer in a number of ways. It can directly treat the disease, prevent bleeding during surgery, and ease pain and cancer treatment side effects.

Your doctor can use interventional radiology to put cancer-killing therapies like chemotherapy and radioactive medicines directly onto tumors and cancer cells.

Doctors can also kill tumors or cancer cells by heating them up with radio waves or electric currents, or freezing them with ice crystals. At the same time that they are treating the tumor, they can cut off blood flow to it as a second way of damaging tumors and cancer cells.

Interventional radiologists can also treat side effects of cancer treatment like blood clots and fluid buildup in your body.

Your interventional radiologist will use a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound to get a good look at the part of your body they need to treat.

Next, they put a tool such as a needle, catheter (a tube), or wire into your body through a small cut. They watch a screen as they place the tool through your body to reach the area that needs treatment.

The kinds of imaging and tools they use depend on your specific condition. You might be sedated during treatment, which means you'll get medicine to make you relax and ease pain. But you most likely won't need general anesthesia, which is medicine that lets you sleep during the procedure.

Interventional radiology does two important things at once. It lets your doctor get direct access to the part of your body that needs treatment. It also makes it less likely that you'll get risky side effects from treatment or surgery.

This is especially important in cancer treatment with radioactive particles or chemotherapy, strong treatments that can damage healthy parts of you when they are sent through your whole body. Interventional radiology lets doctors put these treatments directly on tumors and not on the healthy tissue around them.

Another benefit is that with an interventional radiology procedure, you often don't need to stay overnight in a hospital.

Interventional radiology is not just for people with cancer. Doctors also use it for problems with blood vessels, such as narrowed arteries or blood clots. IR is also a way to treat kidney and gallstones and to place central lines -- IVs that go deep into your body to deliver medicine.

Show Sources


British Society of Interventional Radiology: "What Is Interventional Radiology?"

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Interventional Radiology."

Oncolink: "Interventional Radiology: The Basics."

RadioGraphics: "Percutaneous Tumor Ablation Tools: Microwave, Radiofrequency, or Cryoablation -- What Should You Use and Why?"

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