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 usually have x-rays in the imaging department of the hospital, taken by a radiographer. But in an emergency they are sometimes done on the ward.
Why you might have an x-ray
You might have a chest x-ray to check for signs of cancer in your lungs. This is because primary liver cancer (cancer that started in the liver) can sometimes spread to the lungs.
X-rays are also used to check the general condition of your lungs, for example if you are going to have surgery under a general anaesthetic.
Preparing for your x-ray
There is no special preparation for an x-ray. You can eat and drink normally beforehand. Take your medicines as normal.
Before your x-ray
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 other x-rays 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 or see anything.
You usually 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.
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.
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-rays.