You might have x-rays to help diagnose myeloma. This might include a skeletal survey. This is a series of x-rays including ones of your skull, spine and long bones.

Often you have a scan such as a PET-CT, MRI or CT scan. You might have one or more of these scans instead of x-rays. 

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 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. 

Photograph showing a chest x-ray

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.

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 to prevent blurring of the picture.

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.

Skeletal survey

Your doctor might take x-rays of your long bones, spine, pelvis and skull. This is called a skeletal survey. In myeloma, the large number of plasma cells being made in the bone marrow can cause damage to the hard outer covering of the bones.

You might have a chest x-ray to check your general health.

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.

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.

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-rays.

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

Last reviewed: 
23 Mar 2020
Next review due: 
23 Mar 2023
  • Essential Orthopaedics
    Miller and others
    Elsevier Health Sciences, 2010

  • Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of multiple myeloma 2013
    J Bird, RG Owen, S D’Sa and others
    On behalf of the Haemato-oncology Task Force of the British Committee for Standards in Haematology, UK Myeloma Forum

  • Updates to the guidelines for the diagnosis and management of multiple myeloma
    G Pratt, M Jenner, RG Owen and others
    British Journal of Haematology, 2014, Volume 167

  • Myeloma: Diagnosis and Management
    National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), February 2016

  • National survey of imaging practice for suspected or confirmed plasma cell malignancies

    O Westerland and others 

    British Journal of Radiology 2018 Volume 13:20180462

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