What Is a DICOM File?

How to open, edit, and convert DICOM files

DICOM is an acronym for Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine. Files in this format are most likely saved with either a DCM or DCM30 (DICOM 3.0) file extension, but some may not have an extension at all.

DICOM is both a communications protocol and a file format, which means it can store medical information, such as ultrasound and MRI images, along with a patient's information, all in one file. The format ensures that all the data stays together, as well as provides the ability to transfer said information between devices that support the DICOM format.

The DCM extension is also used by the macOS DiskCatalogMaker program as the DiskCatalogMaker Catalog format.

Don't confuse the DICOM format, or a file with a DCM extension, with the DCIM folder that your digital camera, or smartphone app, stores photos in.

Open DICOM Files With a Free Viewer

Picture of a brain scan
© Peter Dazeley / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

DCM or DCM30 files that you find on a disc or flash drive given to you after a medical procedure can be viewed with the included DICOM viewer software that you'll also find on the disc or drive. Look for a file called setup.exe or similar, or look through any documentation given to you with the data.

If you can't get the DICOM viewer to work, or there wasn't one included with your medical images, the free MicroDicom program is an option. With it, you can open the X-ray or another medical image directly from the disc, via a ZIP file, or even by having it search through your folders to find the DICOM files. Once one is opened in MicroDicom, you can view its metadata, export it as a JPG, TIF, or another common image file type, and more.

MicroDicom is available for both 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows in both an installable and a portable form (which means you don't need to install it in order to use it).

If you'd rather use a web-based tool to open your DICOM files, the free Jack Imaging viewer is one option—just drag the file into the square on the screen to view it. If you've received a file from your doctor that's supposed to have medical images on it, like from an X-ray, this tool will let you view it online in a breeze.

DICOM Library is another free online DICOM viewer you can use that's especially helpful if the DICOM file is really large, and RadiAnt DICOM Viewer is one more downloadable program that opens DICOM files, but it's only an evaluation version of the full version.

View My Scans is a similar online DICOM viewer that supports single files as well as ZIP archives.

DICOM files may also open with IrfanView, Adobe Photoshop, and GIMP.

If you're still having trouble opening the file, it might be because it's compressed. You can try renaming it so that it ends in .zip, and then compress it with a free file extractor program, like PeaZip or 7-Zip.

macOS DiskCatalogMaker Catalog files that are saved using the DCM extension can be opened using DiskCatalogMaker.

How to Convert a DICOM File

The MicroDicom program mentioned a few times already can export whatever DICOM file you have to BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, TIF, or WMF. If there's a series of images, it also supports saving them to a video file in the WMV or AVI format.

Some of the other programs from above that support the DICOM format might also be able to save or export the file to another format, an option that's likely in a File > Save as or Export menu.

Still Can't Open the File?

If you can't open your file using the programs or web services mentioned above, double-check the file extension of your file to make sure that it does in fact read ".DICOM" and not just something that's spelled similarly.

For example, you might really have a DCO file that has nothing to do with the DICOM format or images in general. DCO files are virtual, encrypted disks that are used with Safetica Free.

The same can be said for similar file extensions like DIC, though this one can be tricky. DIC files might, in fact, be DICOM image files but the file extension is also used for dictionary files in some word processor programs.

If your file doesn't open as a DICOM image, put it through a free text editor. It might include dictionary related terms that point to the file being in the Dictionary file format instead.

DICOM is also sometimes used as an abbreviation for the Distributed Component Object Model Remote Protocol, but it has nothing to do with the file formats described above.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I convert a file to DICOM? Some DICOM file viewers can convert other image file formats to DICOM files. For example, MicroDicom converts JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and BMP files to DICOM. To perform this conversion, open the image file in the viewer and select File > Export > To DICOM file
  • What is the difference between a DICOM file and an HL7 file? DICOM and HL7 (Health Level Seven International) represent different standards and file formats for transmitting medical information. On a broad level, HL7 defines a framework for sharing data with healthcare information systems, while DICOM files adhere to DICOM standards and store patient data and medical images all in one file.
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