11 August 2020

How medical imaging improves the health of women every day

11 August 2020

How medical imaging improves the health of women every day

Every day across Australia, women are visiting an I-MED Radiology clinic and undergoing a medical imaging examination to either exclude or diagnose female-specific disorders. From young girls with potential gynecological problems, to excited expectant mothers, to women having examinations to assess for the presence of breast cancer – there are many specific tests to investigate women’s health, which can lead to better and improved patient outcomes.

Breast imaging

Most women are familiar with the mammogram, a specialised x-ray examination used for the detection of breast cancers. Mammograms have greatly improved in recent years with the development of new, highly accurate 3D tomosynthesis, which significantly improves cancer detection and helps reduce unnecessary call-back and follow-up tests. For younger women, mammography is often combined with breast ultrasound to give doctors more information. Sometimes, a breast MRI may be recommended for screening, if you are at high risk of breast cancer or your mammogram and ultrasound examinations are inconclusive.

The “Triple Test”, comprising of (a) clinical examination, (b) imaging (mammography and ultrasound), and (c) non excisional biopsy is considered the gold standard test for detecting or excluding the presence of breast cancer.

Bone densitometry

Osteoporosis and osteopenia are conditions where there is a reduction in the amount of bone. These conditions affect both men and women, but women are four times more likely to be affected than men. Bone loss can lead to fractures, with acute back pain when the spine is affected, or hip pain if the bones of the hip joint are affected. This can then lead to loss of mobility and premature death. However, it is a disease that can be treated. By measuring your bone mineral density as you get older or if you are at risk, bone loss can be quantified and monitored, and your doctor can plan preventative therapy. The bone densitometry scan (often called a DEXA scan) is a short and simple procedure where the patient lies on a bed and the x-ray machine takes a few snapshots of the hips, spine and other bones. A CT scan can also be used to detect bone density.

Gynaecological scans

Gynaecology refers specifically to the study and treatment of pelvic disorders in women, excluding those problems that are associated with pregnancy. Gynaecological imaging may be requested by your doctor if you have symptoms of pelvic pain or abnormal vaginal bleeding, and also for the investigation of infertility or suspicion of a mass in the pelvis. Imaging may be via an abdominal ultrasound using a smooth handheld transducer on the outside of the body, on the lower part of the abdomen (tummy). Sometimes transvaginal ultrasound is required (inserting the ultrasound probe into the vagina) as it provides much higher resolution pictures of the organs in the pelvis, particularly the uterus (including fallopian tubes and ovaries).

Obstetric ultrasound

At I-MED Radiology we perform more obstetric ultrasounds than any other provider in Australia – over 100,000 every year. The ultrasound is a special part of the pregnancy journey, designed to monitor the age, health and development of your baby. Typically the expectant mother will attend three scans: the dating scan (7-10 weeks) to establish a due date; the mini-anatomy scan at 11.5 to 13.5 weeks; and the baby anatomy scan at 18-22 weeks. Ultrasound uses high frequency soundwaves (you cannot hear them) to see and record images on a monitor screen in ‘real time’. This makes it ideal for imaging the moving foetus, and because it uses only sound waves it is safe for the mother and the child.

Our specialist radiologists – experts in women’s imaging

Across the I-MED Radiology Network, many of our radiologists have completed additional specialist fellowship training in women’s imaging. They are recognised locally, nationally and internationally as experts in their chosen field.

Our radiologists understand when an imaging test may help answer a question about a symptom, disease, injury or treatment - and also when imaging is unlikely to be helpful. If a test is needed, they will know what kind (and if it's multiple tests, the order in which they should be done to get the best result). In responding to requests for tests or interventional treatments, your radiologist will consider different options and the risks and benefits, before determining the best course of action.

Radiologists communicate the results of diagnostic and interventional imaging in a written report sent to your referring doctor, and sometimes also by phone. By working in this way, as part of a clinical team, our radiologists are active participants in bringing about better health outcomes for our female patients.