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X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation that can be passed through the body to project an image on either a piece of film or a digital detector. It is generally quick and painless to perform and is particularly useful for examining the bones and the lungs. A mammogram is a special type of x-ray examination for examining the breast tissue.
While often useful as a first line test, x-rays have limitations in the types of conditions that can be diagnosed. Small lung cancers for example, may not visible on a chest x-ray. The solid organs in the abdomen, the brain and spinal cord are some parts of the body that cannot be seen on conventional x-rays. Newer imaging techniques such as ultrasound, CT and MRI scans were developed to overcome these limitations.
Most general x-ray examinations don’t require any special preparation although you may be asked to remove any objects such as jewelry or spectacles that may show up on the x-ray. You may also be asked to remove some clothing and wear a special gown during the x-ray.
Women should always inform the x-ray technologist or physician if there is any possibility they may be pregnant, to avoid exposing the fetus to radiation. In circumstances where an x-ray is necessary, steps are taken to minimise exposure to the fetus.