Image-guided therapy

Interventional radiologists blaze a new path to health at UC Irvine

April 04, 2014

You may not know what an interventional radiologist does — but if Dr. Douglas Yim, chief of interventional radiology with UCI Health, has his way, your future doctor will be one.

Experts in both imaging technology and minimally invasive procedures, interventional radiologists such as Yim work in collaboration with spine surgeons, urologists, vascular surgeons and gynecologists to blaze new pathways to treat cancer and a host of other diseases. Yim calls it “image-guided therapy” — using X-ray, MRI, CT and ultrasound to deliver targeted treatments anywhere inside the body, while operating through the tiniest incisions. For patients, that means minimal pain and scarring compared to open surgery, and recovery measured in days versus weeks.

“Using these techniques, we can solve all kinds of problems that would otherwise require more invasive treatments,” Yim says.

For example, a compression fracture of the spine caused by osteoporosis is traditionally treated with a body cast, morphine and weeks of bed rest. “We use X-ray to guide a thin needle into the fractured vertebra, inject a biological cement to fix the fracture, and you're pain-free and back to normal activity in 24 hours,” Yim says. “For seniors with osteoporosis, that's huge.”

To treat kidney tumors, he uses CT or MRI to guide a thin probe into the tumor, either freezing or burning the tumor cells — without harming healthy tissue.

“You go home that afternoon with a Band-Aid® on your back,” he says.

Women with uterine fibroids — non-cancerous growths in the uterus that cause heavy bleeding and pain — also benefit from these techniques. Through a small incision, a thin catheter is directed into the artery feeding the fibroid and tiny particles are injected to cut off the blood supply, causing the fibroid to shrink and die. Patients are back to their normal activities in a day or so.

Helping patients regain their quality of life is what really motivates Yim, as 72-year-old Susan Stenhouse can appreciate. The Torrance resident and former church organist has a rare intestinal disease; she relies on a catheter-based feeding tube for nourishment. Her former doctors had placed a catheter deep through her back into a large abdominal vein, where it caused constant discomfort.

The problem seemed simple: Relocate the catheter port to her chest, where it would be more comfortable and secure. But Stenhouse's veins were so blocked with scar tissue that other doctors had given up. Not Yim. Guided by X-ray and operating through two tiny incisions, Yim tunneled through a completely blocked vein and opened a channel. Stenhouse's catheter now sits comfortably below her collarbone and she couldn't be happier.

“We're using image-guided techniques in ways that really improve people's lives," Yim says. "It's the future of medicine.”

Learn more about image-guided therapy at UCI Health ›

— UCI Health Marketing & Communications
Featured in UCI Health - Spring/Summer 2014 Issue