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You might have an x-ray to help diagnose bone cancer.

What are x-rays?

An x-ray is a test that uses small doses of radiation to take pictures of the inside of your body. They are a good way to look at bones and can show changes caused by cancer or other medical conditions. X-rays can also show changes in other organs, such as the lungs.

You have x-rays in the imaging department of the hospital, taken by a radiographer.

Photograph showing a chest x-ray

Why you have it

The bones show up well on x-rays and this is the first test you are likely to have. Sometimes x-rays can give a very recognisable picture, which can help the specialist to diagnose particular types of bone cancer.

A primary bone tumour can usually show up as one of the following:

  • breakdown of an area of a bone
  • new bone growth
  • swelling of the bone
  • swelling in the soft tissues surrounding the bone
  • a break in the bone (fracture)

What happens

Before your x-ray

There is no special preparation for an x-ray. You can eat and drink normally beforehand. Take your medicines as normal.

When you arrive, the radiographer might ask you to change into a hospital gown and take off any jewellery.

During your x-ray

You usually have a chest x-ray standing up against the x-ray machine. If you can’t stand you can have it sitting or lying on the x-ray couch. For x-rays of other areas of the body the best position is usually lying down on the x-ray couch.

The radiographer lines the machine up to make sure it's in the right place. You must keep very still.

The radiographer then goes behind a screen. They can still see and hear you. They might ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds while they take the x-ray. 

X-rays are painless and quick. You won’t feel anything.

You might have more than one x-ray taken from different angles. The whole process may take a few minutes.

After your x-ray

After the x-ray you can get dressed and go home or back to work. 

Possible risks

An x-ray is a safe test for most people but like all medical tests it has some possible risks. Your doctor and radiographer make sure the benefits of having the test outweigh these risks.


The amount of radiation you receive from an x-ray is small and doesn't make you feel unwell.

The risk of the radiation causing any problems in the future is very small. The benefits of finding out what is wrong outweigh any risk there may be from radiation.

Talk to your doctor if you are worried about the possible effects of x-ray.

Fertility and pregnancy

The ovaries and testicles are particularly sensitive to radiation and you may have lead blocks to shield them if they are in the x-ray field.

It is very important to tell your doctor if you think you may be pregnant, as the x-rays could affect your developing baby. If you can’t delay the x-ray, the radiographer may be able to shield the baby with a lead apron or block.

Getting your results

Ask your doctor how long it will be until you get your x-ray results. Unless your doctor thinks it’s urgent the results might take a couple of weeks.

Waiting for test results can be a worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can ask them for information. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For support and information, you can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
11 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
12 Feb 2024
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