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Unsung Medical Specialty Offers Less Invasive Alternatives to Surgery for Growing List of Conditions

At Washington Hospital, community physicians and specialists team up to offer lower risk, image-guided treatment

For many years, patients and the medical community have looked to surgery as the best way to treat many medical conditions. For example, surgery has often been the treatment of choice for spinal compression fractures, uterine fibroids, varicose veins, aneurysms, blood clots in the lungs and legs, some cancers, and many other problems.

In some cases, traditional surgery continues to be the treatment of choice. However, since the 1960s, a little-known, innovative medical specialty called Interventional Radiology (IR) has evolved as an alternative to open surgery. A less invasive treatment approach than traditional surgery, IR offers other distinct benefits, including lower risk, less pain and a shorter recovery time.

Today, some IR-pioneered procedures, such as angioplasty and stenting to open clogged arteries, have become well known and have been adopted by other specialties as the standard of care for some conditions. Many other leading edge IR treatments are also available, with more being developed every year.

At Washington Hospital, the growing Interventional Radiology Program has evolved with the help of modern technologies. The Hospital now offers many minimally invasive interventions that once required open surgery.

To perform a procedure, the IR specialist gains access to the target organ by inserting a tiny catheter or miniature instruments through the skin without making an incision. Using x-ray or ultrasound imaging guidance, the physician can then reach the internal site of a problem with these small devices and deliver the necessary targeted therapies.

“IR is ‘cutting edge’ medicine without the cutting,” said Washington Hospital board-certified interventional radiologist Bruce Lin, MD. “Many of these diagnostic and therapeutic procedures are now considered first-line treatments for specific conditions. They often result in improved outcomes, less discomfort, lower complication rates, and faster recovery and are usually more cost effective. In today’s health care, these are important options for doctors and patients to consider.”

Interventional Radiology is a recognized medical specialty by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Interventional radiologists are board-certified physicians with additional advanced training in a broad spectrum of minimally invasive procedures in multiple organ systems.

“Because interventional radiologists are first trained in diagnostic radiology, they use imaging to understand, visualize and diagnose the full scope of the disease’s pathology and to map out the procedure tailored to the individual patient,” says the website of the Society of Interventional Radiology (SIR). “Then during the procedure, they image as they go, literally watching and guiding their catheter to the site of the problem.”

“At Washington Hospital, we work with community physicians to improve patient care and outcomes,” explained Dr. Lin. “Interventional radiologists offer in-depth knowledge of the least invasive treatments available and are experts at providing advanced imaging. They use their diagnostic expertise to plan and develop optimal interventional treatment strategies.”

When doctors partner with IR specialists at Washington Hospital, patient care is streamlined through a faster, more efficient image evaluation and targeted treatment process. Areas of IR treatment performed include problems with arteries, veins and cancer or cancer-related conditions, as well as spine or pain management, women’s health, kidney dialysis access, and gastrointestinal, genitourinary or liver-related conditions.

According to SIR, the concept of IR was first used in the 1960s to open a blocked artery in an 82-year-old woman, saving her gangrenous left foot. Later, IR procedures were developed that revolutionized the practice of cardiology.

Some more recent advancements in IR include:

  • Treatments for back pain, vein problems and uterine fibroids
  • Nonsurgical destruction of a tumor or tumors without harming surrounding tissue
  • Blocking a blood vessel to stop hemorrhaging or cut off the blood supply to a tumor
  • Dissolving dangerous clots in blood vessels
  • Widening or opening blocked or partially blocked arteries supplying blood to the head and neck to prevent stroke.

Learn more

To learn more about Interventional Radiology at Washington Hospital, go to For more information about the medical specialty of Interventional Radiology, visit