X-rays and cancer diagnosis

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X-ray scans are used for diagnosing cancer. Learn what X-rays are, how they are done and what to expect when you get your results.

Key points

  • X-ray scans take pictures of the inside of your body.
  • How you are positioned - either standing, sitting or lying down - will depend on the body part your doctor needs to see.
  • X-rays are quick, they are not painful and are considered safe.
  • Your doctor will tell you what the pictures show and what that means.

What are X-rays?

X-ray scans use high-energy rays called X-rays to take a picture of the inside of your body. The X-rays pass through your body and a computer or special film records the picture.

X-rays are used often for diagnoses and are considered safe.

In the X-ray picture:

  • solid parts such as bones block the X-rays so they look white
  • muscle, fat and fluids block fewer X-rays and look grey
  • parts of your body that are very thin or have air in them, such as your lungs, look black.

How are X-rays done?

An X-ray machine is like a big camera. How you will be positioned and where the X-ray camera points will depend on the body part the doctor needs to see. You might have an X-ray of a bone, your lungs or your abdomen (belly). You may need to stand, sit or lie down for an X-ray.

X-rays are very quick and they don’t hurt. They are especially useful for taking pictures of bones.

X-ray results

A specialist doctor called a radiologist will look at your X-ray pictures. Your doctor will then tell you what the pictures show and what that means. Your doctor will let you know how long you will need to wait before the pictures are ready.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019