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An X-ray is a test that uses a small amount of radiation to produce an image of structures inside the body.
The images created by X-rays show different parts of the body in various shades of black and white, depending on how much radiation the particular tissue absorbs. Calcium in bones absorbs X-rays the most, so bones look white. Fat and other soft tissues absorb less, so they appear gray. Air absorbs the least, so that’s why the lungs appears black.
People are exposed to radiation every day in the normal environment. The amount of radiation given during an X-ray is very small. The medical benefits of X-rays far outweigh the small amount of radiation exposure. Lead shields (such as an apron or a thyroid shield) may be used to protect parts of the body.
X-rays are reviewed and analyzed by doctors called radiologists who are specially trained to analyze diagnostic imaging tests.
X-rays can show evidence of cancer, infections, bone fractures and abnormalities, so they are used during diagnosis to capture an image of the initial cancer. Doctors can use those images as a baseline to measure response to treatment.
During treatment, X-rays may be used to monitor the child’s response to cancer treatment and identify problems that may arise during therapy.
After patients are finished with treatment, they may have X-rays to check that the cancer remains in remission.
Cancer survivors are at risk of developing other cancers and health problems. As such, they may have regular diagnostic imaging scans, which may include X-rays, to monitor their health. Regular scans will help detect problems earlier when they may be more treatable.
During the examination, an X-ray machine sends a beam of radiation through the area of the body, and an image is recorded on a computer or special film. The patient will be asked to stand, sit, or lie down on a table depending on the type of machine being used. The X-ray technologist will place the patient in a position to get the clearest view and will then take the image. The patient must stay very still and may need to hold their breath because moving will blur the X-ray. The technologist may assist the patient with changing position for additional X-rays.
An X-ray test is not painful, but it does require the patient to stay still for a moment to get a clear image. Talk with your child about the importance of not moving during the test. Parents may be allowed to be in the room while the X-ray images are taken to assist and comfort the patient. If the child is uncomfortable, parents should let the technologist know.
It is important that anyone who will be in the X-ray room (patient or parent) tell the staff if she is pregnant because of possible harm to the unborn fetus.
The patient may be asked to remove jewelry, watches or glasses and may need to wear a hospital gown.
For some X-ray tests, a contrast medium – such as iodine or barium – is either swallowed or injected to provide greater details on the images. If your child has ever had a reaction to an X-ray contrast, please tell the technologist or a member of your clinical care team.
Reviewed: June 2018