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X-ray for Children with Cancer

What is x-ray?

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.

How do x-rays work?

The images created by X-rays show different parts of the body in shades of black and white. The color depends on how much radiation the tissue absorbs. 

  • Calcium in bones absorbs X-rays the most. This means bones look white. 
  • Fat and other soft tissues absorb less. They appear gray. 
  • Air absorbs the least. That’s why the lungs appear black.
Pediatric cancer patient is being positioned by an X-ray technologist with her mom standing near wearing a lead apron.

Are x-rays safe?

People are exposed to radiation every day in the 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.  

How are x-rays Used in childhood cancer care?

X-rays are reviewed by doctors called radiologists who are specially trained to analyze diagnostic imaging tests.


X-rays can show:

  • Evidence of cancer
  • Infections
  • Bone fractures
  • Abnormalities

They are used during diagnosis to capture an image of the initial cancer. Doctors can use those images as a baseline. It can help measure how your child is responding to treatment.


X-rays may be used to monitor your child’s response to cancer treatment. They can also identify problems that may arise during therapy.

X-ray with prosthesis on screen being reviewed

After treatment is over

When your child is finished with treatment, they may have x-rays to check that the cancer remains in remission.

Long-term survival

Cancer survivors are at risk of developing other cancers and health problems. They may have regular diagnostic imaging scans, including x-rays, to monitor their health. 

Regular scans will help detect problems earlier when they may be more treatable.

Pediatric cancer patient lays on table while Child Life Specialist shares an iPad and X-ray technologist positions machine for abdominal x-ray.

X-rays are used in diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment follow-up of childhood cancers.

What happens during an x-ray?

An x-ray machine sends a beam of radiation through the area of the body. It records an image on a computer or special film. 

Your child 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 help your child get into the best position to get the clearest view. Then, they will take the image.  

Your child must stay very still. They may need to hold their breath because moving will blur the x-ray. 

The technologist may assist your child with changing position for additional x-rays. 

Pediatric cancer patient is being positioned by an X-ray technologist with her mom standing near wearing a lead apron.

X-rays are used in diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment follow-up of childhood cancers.

How do you prepare for an x-ray?

An x-ray test is not painful. 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. 

You may be allowed to be in the room while the x-ray images are taken to help. Be sure to let the technologist know if your child is nervous or uncomfortable. 

It is important that anyone who will be in the x-ray room (patient or parent) tell the staff if she is pregnant.

Your child 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: October 2021