Alternative and specialized imaging modalities

Published on 12/06/2015 by admin

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Last modified 12/06/2015

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Alternative and specialized imaging modalities


An array of medical imaging modalities has been developed in recent years and these continue to be developed at a phenomenal rate. Totally new imaging techniques have been introduced, while the resolution and image quality of existing systems are continually being refined and improved. Research and development have focused on manipulating and altering all three of the basic requirements for image production – the patient, the image-generating equipment (to find alternatives to ionizing radiation) and the image receptor. Digital image receptors (solid-state and photostimulable phosphor plates) are now used routinely (see Ch. 4). More and more sophisticated computer software is being developed to manipulate the image itself, once it has been captured. Many of these imaging modalities are playing an increasingly important role in dentistry. As a result, clinicians need to be aware of them and their application in the head and neck region. The main specialized imaging modalities include:

This chapter provides a summary of these modalities and their main applications in the head and neck region.

Contrast studies

These investigations use contrast media, radiopaque substances that have been developed to alter artificially the density of different parts of the patient, so altering subject contrast – the difference in the X-ray beam transmitted through different parts of the patient’s tissues (see Ch. 17). Thus, by altering the patient, certain organs, structures and tissues, invisible using conventional means, can be seen (see Fig. 18.1). Contrast studies, and the tissues imaged, include:

Harmful effects of contrast media

Ideally, contrast media should have no harmful effects at all. However, there is a small risk associated with their use, especially with the iodine-based aqueous solutions (the so-called general contrast media) when they are introduced into the bloodstream. Considering a single dose of contrast medium contains more than 2000 times as much iodine as the body’s total physiological content, adverse or residual effects are remarkably rare.

Main contrast studies used in the head and neck

These include:

The procedure usually entails introducing a catheter into a femoral artery followed by selective catheterization of the carotid or vertebral arteries, as required, using fluoroscopic control. Once the catheter is sited correctly, the contrast medium is injected and radiographs of the appropriate area taken (see Fig. 18.1B).

Radioisotope imaging

Radioisotope imaging relies upon altering the patient by making the tissues radioactive and the patient becoming the source of ionizing radiation. This is done by injecting certain radioactive compounds into the patient that have an affinity for particular tissues – so-called target tissues. The radioactive compounds become concentrated in the target tissue and their radiation emissions are then detected and imaged, usually using a stationary gamma camera (see Fig. 18.2). This investigation allows the function and/or the structure of the target tissue to be examined under both static and dynamic conditions.

Radioisotopes and radioactivity

Radioisotopes, as defined in Chapter 2, are isotopes with unstable nuclei that undergo radioactive disintegration. This disintegration is often accompanied by the emission of radioactive particles or radiation. The important emissions include:

The main properties and characteristics of these emissions are summarized in Table 18.1.

Table 18.1

Summary of the main properties and characteristics of radioactive emissions

Property Alpha particles Beta particles Gamma rays Beta+ particles
Nature Particulate – two protons and two neutrons Particulate – electrons Electromagnetic radiation – identical to X-rays Particulate – positron, interacts very rapidly with a negative electron to produce 2 gamma rays – annihilation radiation – properties as shown in adjacent column
Size Large Small Nil  
Charge Positive Negative Nil  
Speed Slow Fast Very fast  
Range in tissue 1–2 mm 1–2 cm As with X-rays  
Energy range carried 4–8 MeV 100 keV–6 MeV 1.24 keV–12.4 MeV  
Damage caused Extensive ionization Ionization Ionization – similar damage to X-rays  
Use in nuclear Banned Very limited Main emission used PET


Radioisotopes used in conventional nuclear medicine

Several radioisotopes are used in conventional nuclear medicine, depending on the organ or tissue under investigation. Typical examples together with their target tissues or target diseases include:

99mTc is the most commonly used radioisotope. Its main properties include: