The Role of a Radiologist

The Role of a Radiologist | Dr. Ali Ghahary

As a family physician, it’s not uncommon for Dr. Ali Ghahary to refer patients for different types of tests. Blood work, for example, is something that Dr. Ghahary often requests patients have done as a part of their yearly examination to ensure that their cholesterol levels are where they should be, as well as to check for and rule out other common health conditions such as thyroid disease. Blood testing can also detect more serious health issues, too, such as cancer. In addition to having blood tests done, medical screening is also done on patients of a certain age. For example, it’s recommended that men in their 50’s should go for regular prostate cancer screening, while women between the ages of 50 and 69 should have breast cancer screening done every 2 years. Seniors should also have certain preventive testing done for things like colorectal cancer, lung cancer, and high blood pressure.

While blood work is commonly done by nurses, things like x-rays and cancer screening is typically done by someone known as a radiologist. A radiologist is an important part of the healthcare system as they help in the diagnosing of certain illnesses and injury, as well as aiding your physician in determining which examination is best suited for you. For example, would the patient benefit from an X-ray or will they need to have a more in-depth scan such as an MRI or CT scan.

A radiologist is much more than someone who simply takes a few photos, however. They are also able to determine what those photos show through careful examination and can also compare other examinations and tests to help them with their findings. In addition, they can also help treat diseases through radiation therapy – a form of cancer treatment that is often done before, during or after chemotherapy depending on the diagnosis and the stage that the cancer is in. During certain medical imaging procedures, the patient may either be asked to drink a solution or may require a dye that is injected into them intravenously. These dyes and solutions help give the radiologist a better view of certain parts of the body that may not necessarily show up as well as they would without dye or solution being present in the patient’s body. Think of it as a magnifying glass, in a way. The clearer the picture is, the easier it will be for the radiologist to provide your physician with an accurate report and diagnosis.

In order to become a radiologist, one has to graduate from an accredited school and complete a postgraduate residency, which usually lasts for approximately 4 years in the United States and Canada. During the learning and residency processes, a radiologist will learn about things like radiation safety, radiation protection, how radiation can affect the human body (for example, having frequent CT scans can increase the risk of cancer), how medical imaging tests are performed, and how to accurately read the scans.

For more information on the role of a radiologist, the important role they play in patient care, as well as education, visit the Canadian Association of Radiologists website at CAR.ca.

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Cancer Detection and Treatment

Ali Ghahary, a family doctor in Vancouver who currently practices at Burnaby’s Brentwood Medical Clinic, recommends patients have annual check-ups with their physician. Regular exams are a helpful way for your physician to keep your medical records current, ensuring your immunizations are up to date, and reviewing any health concerns you might have.

The most common type of tests that Dr. Ali Ghahary will refer patients for include blood testing to check hormone levels, thyroid function, and even diabetes, in addition to recommended preventive screening tests as outlined by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, such as screening for prostate cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. When it comes to a cancer diagnosis, early detection plays a pivotal role in getting effective treatment.

Cancer Detection and Treatment

For those who are newly diagnosed with cancer, it can be an overwhelming and life-altering event, and the biggest question that one may have is “What next?” That is where physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary come in. General practitioners such as himself will often act as the middleman between patients and their cancer care team, which includes oncologists, in-home nursing care, as well as simply being there as part of the patient’s general support system and answering any questions a patient or their families might have in relation to the diagnosis. Dr. Ali Ghahary may also recommend that patients seek outside help in effort to better cope with their diagnosis. This can be done by referring the patient to outpatient mental health facilities for counselling, or by recommending support groups that are in or near the patient’s community. It is a good idea for the patient to include their loved ones when going through this kind of therapy. Click here for a list of support programs offered by the BC Cancer Agency.

When it comes to managing cancer, treatment is individualized specifically to the patient and is dependent on the type of cancer that they have and the stage of which it’s in. Below, Dr. Ali Ghahary outlines the different types of cancer treatments that are available and what the patient can potentially expect in terms of different side effects.

ChemotherapyChemotherapy
This is a common method of cancer treatment, and may be used as a standalone choice of treatment or in conjecture with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing down the growth of cancer cells, and it is also often used to shrink tumours prior to the patient receiving radiation therapy. When it is used for this purpose, this is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy comes in many different forms. The most common ways in which chemotherapy is administered is via injection, intravenously, and even orally.

While chemotherapy slows down or kills off cancer cells, it can also lead to the destruction of your body’s healthy cells, such as cells in your intestines, mouth, and even the cells that cause your hair to grow, thus making hair loss a common side effect of cancer treatment. When healthy cells become damaged you may also experience other side effects such as mouth sores and nausea.

To combat the symptoms associated with chemotherapy, Dr. Ali Ghahary will typically recommended anti-emetic drugs, such as Ondanestron – a drug that is commonly prescribed to cancer patients. While it may take a bit of time before you are feeling better, these side effects do tend to go away all together once the chemotherapy treatment has been completed.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation
Similar to that of medical imaging such as an X-ray or CT scan, radiation therapy kills cancer cells by exposing them to high doses of radiation – and continues to kill those cells for weeks, even months, after radiation treatment has ended.

The most common type of radiation therapy that is given is known as EBRT, or External Beam Radiation Therapy, which is done through a machine that aims its radiation at your cancer. The way in which the radiation procedure is performed is dependent on where your cancer is. As opposed to chemotherapy, which circulates throughout your body’s bloodstream, radiation will only be given to the specific area in your body that is affected – for example, if you have lung or breast cancer, the radiation will only go to your chest.

Similar to chemotherapy, patients who undergo radiation therapy may exhibit the same symptoms – with nausea and hair loss being the most common, as well as fatigue and swelling or scarring of the treated areas – which is also known as radiation dermatitis. If you experience scarring or burning as a result of radiation, it is important to keep your skin moisturized by using fragrance-free products. Your doctor may be able to recommend a good ointment to use for sensitive skin, or may refer you to a dermatologist for treatment. It is also important to bathe with lukewarm water rather than scalding hot water, do not use heating pads, and do not wear tight clothing on or around the affected areas. Instead, opt for looser fitting, comfortable clothing. It’s also crucial that you do not expose the areas to the sun while you are still undergoing treatment, as the sun’s UV rays can lead to further damage of the skin.

You can find more cancer resources by following Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary or by visiting his website at alighahary.ca.