With advances in science and technology, the medical field has seen significant growth. Precision and accuracy are the latest buzz words. Gone are the days when doctors had to either rely on information from patients or depend on physical examination while diagnosing a disease. In this new age, X-rays have made examining the physiological processes and anatomy of human body without a single cut a reality.
The advent of X-rays was considered to be a scientific bombshell a few decades back. Since then researchers around the world have made advancements in the technologies used in radiation therapy. Their goal is to deliver the prescribed radiation dose to a well-defined treatment area while minimizing exposure of healthy tissue, and ultimately improve the survival rate and patients' quality of life.
Modern X-ray equipment have become smaller, faster, and simpler. In order to meet current challenges and those of the future, there have been a number of recent key improvements in the vital components of X-ray equipment. The industry is experiencing a drive toward a more personalized approach to healthcare, providing patients with treatment that is specific and adaptive to them. Several technology giants are actively focusing on developing advanced X-ray systems based on modern medical requirements.
Several advances in the area include:
- Development of linear accelerators that produce high-energy X-rays for deeper penetration.
- Blocking techniques to contour the beam to conform to the size and shape of the target organ.
- Multiple beams and angles to adapt the dose to the tumor and to reduce the dose to healthy organs.
- Advances in imaging for improved ability to define the tumors.
- Four-dimensional imaging to measure motion of both tumor and normal structures during treatment.
- Adaptive radiotherapy techniques to correct changes in tumor size and shape during treatment.
- Faster and more powerful computers for more accurate dose calculations and the delivery of intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and volumetric arc therapy (VMAT).
Such advancements in X-ray systems and the growing incorporation of modern devices and techniques that has made consumers more comfortable with X-ray technology are expected to drive the global X-ray market. The market is expected to witness a steady 4.5 percent CAGR from 2016 to -2022 to a value of USD 11.8 billion by 2022, predicts Transparency Market Research. Digital X-ray systems have overtaken the conventional analog X-ray systems in the last few decades
and now hold dominance in the global market.
One of the upcoming trends gaining traction in the market is the emergence of portable digital X-ray systems. These systems are lightweight and easy to carry and use. They do not require the technician to develop the X-ray equipment or physically transport it from one location to another and the images can be sent from anywhere in the hospital, thereby saving valuable treatment time. Also, these X-ray systems use lower radiation doses, so are increasingly used in emerging applications in veterinary and medical sciences,
Indian Market Dynamics
In 2015, the Indian X-ray equipment market saw an overall decline of 20 percent in value terms. The analog equipment market is continuing to see a decline, whereas the digital radiography (DR) systems are in demand. The fluoroscopy segment, which comprises analog, digital, and IITV, contributed about 25 crore to this segment. Showing a continuous X-ray image on a monitor, much like an X-ray movie, this segment is preferred by the discerning customer.
The computed radiography (CR) equipment market in 2015–2016 maintained its sales of 4,100 units and was valued at 246 crore, similar to the 2014–2015 level.
The government facilities continued procuring high-end equipment. The private sector was more prudent and opted for a mixed bag as per their requirement and budgets.
When comparing CR and DR, each type of system offers relative advantages, but DR may represent a better option for some facilities with a larger patient load due to the greater ease of use and elimination of cassette handling, lower scan time, and less wear and tear on other key components of the equipment. A DR system is likely to have a footprint similar to an analog system and there will be low probability of needing to remodel the X-ray space. However, purchasing a full DR system is more expensive than adding a CR reader to the analog unit, which has deterred buyers from switching to DR. This has globally spurred all X-ray equipment vendors, to make an effort toward bringing the price of DR systems down and maintaining the price for DR at nearly twice that of a CR system.
What Lies Ahead
X-ray imaging may be one of the oldest forms of medical imaging, but it has evolved multifold to make diagnosis and treatment more reliable. With various advancements in this segment, digital X-ray and 3-D X-ray have become a trend in the recent past. While X-ray technology at its core has remained essentially the same over the years, several undergoing researches claim that this might change in the next few years. The idea is to explore alternative technologies in order to improve healthcare through better imaging.
According to a recent finding, a sheet of graphene when struck with photons from a laser beam can be used to generate surface waves known as plasmons. Plasmons can further release a sharp pulse of radiation that can be tuned to uniform X-ray wavelengths. This radiation is said to be relatively safer, as it can result in lower dose X-ray equipment being built in the future.
Furthermore, studies are also being conducted at the University of Canterbury to make X-ray detectors that provide more detailed and full-color images. These detectors use a special chip known as Medipix, which is similar to a digital camera chip, the difference being that it detects X-rays instead of light rays. The Medipix chip can measure images over a period of time and take very
thin image slices so that X-ray movies
can be possible. The project known as Medipix All Resolution System (MARS) might just herald in a whole new world of radiology.
There is a new technology emerging that will allow for detailed images of soft-tissue – not just bones. For example, new imaging equipment is being tested that allows for X-rays to be used for eyes and ocular tissues. Using a particle accelerator, X-rays would be able to clearly show the various structures of the eye including the lens, iris, and cornea. Proton-beam technology is another new branch of medical imaging with promising results. This new technology is safe and more accurate than traditional X-rays. Proton-beam technology would provide a more thorough treatment of cancerous tissues by delivering a higher concentration of radiation to affected tissues and less radiation to healthy ones.
Next-generation X-rays are becoming more fine-tuned, allowing the identification of tumors in living tissue much earlier. Known as phase-contrast X-ray imaging, the new X-rays can measure the physical effect of the X-ray passing through tissues at the speed of light. This adds a whole new dimension to the traditional science of X-ray. Thus, it is fair to say that there is much excitement in the area of medical imaging. The shift toward value-based purchasing is expected to impact the engineering efforts of the manufacturers in the near future. Various innovations to develop X-ray equipment with improved image quality at low radiation dose while providing faster results, all point to a healthy future for X-ray.