Radiology treatment as we know it was largely pioneered by German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen. In 1895, the birth of the radiation therapy field made possible by Roentgen’s incidental discovery of x-rays. Wilhelm’s discovery occurred when he noticed the presence of energy rays, capable of passing through both himself and the objects around him, during his electrical experiments. He was fascinated by the fact that these peculiar energy rays could be used in order to generate an image of human bones. Six weeks later, Roentgen published his findings in a technical report. The report was presented on the 28th of December to the Wurzburg Physical-Medical Society.

X-Ray and Nobel Prizes

In the January 1896, Roentgen concluded his first public presentation regarding his energy ray discovery by taking an x-ray image of the hand of a volunteer; this would result in Roentgen being recognized with the first Nobel prize in Physics in the year 1901. It wasn’t long before the treatment potential of x-ray scanning was realized. The very first x-ray used for diagnostic purposes in America was created within two months of Roentgen’s discovery.
Roentgen’s Nobel Prize award was only the beginning of the wave of development in the burgeoning field of radiation therapy. Marie Sklodowska Curie and Pierre Curie managed to isolate the first known radioactive elements, Polonium and Radium. The Curies discovered that all radioactive elements are capable of emitting Gamma Rays, a natural form of x-ray; like Roentgen, they were also recognized with Nobel prizes in physics.

Conformal Radiation Therapy

Because of substantial developments in technological computing power in the late 1900s, practitioners and experimenters gained a much finer degree of control over the dynamics of radiation physics; this made the creation of conformal radiation therapy (CRT) possible. Medical practitioners could now accurately determine the location of cancer within patients with the use of CT images in three separate dimensions. The radiation beams could be precisely adjusted to match the contour of the tumor.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy

In addition to CRT, there was also the introduction of intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). Much like CRT radiation beams could be adjusted to match the shape of the tumor, IMRT beams gave practitioners the ability to adjust to the intensity of the beams for less radiation on the skin and more radiation focused on the cancer.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Stereotactic radiosurgery was employed for delivering a sizable yet pinpointed beam of radiation to a miniature tumor, typically located in the brain. During treatment, intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) delivers radiation to both the targeted cancer and all adjacent tissues following its removal.

Today, researchers are still hard at work to discover more effective ways to minimize the collateral damage caused by radiation beam exposure while maximizing its cancer-eradicating efficacy. The field is rich with opportunities to contribute to the development of future radiation technology. Students who acquire a Bachelors in radiologic science online will have access to a variety of high-level career opportunities, from clinical instructors to computed tomography technologists.


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