An X-ray is a widely used diagnostic test to examine the inside of the body. X-rays are a very effective way of detecting problems with bones, such as fractures. They can also often identify problems with soft tissue, such as pneumonia or breast cancer.
What are X-rays?
X-rays are a type of radiation. Radiation is a general term that refers to any sort of energy that can travel through space as either a wave or a particle. Examples of other types of radiation include:
•radio waves, and
X-rays are similar to light, except that they have a much higher frequency, which makes them invisible to the naked eye.
Due to their high frequency, X-rays can pass through the human body. This makes X-rays ideal for looking inside the body.
X-rays consist of a type of radiation known as ionising radiation. Ionising radiation is high-energy radiation. It can damage the cells of the body and cause mutations in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which can trigger cancer in later life. DNA is a type of acid that contains all human genetic material.
However, ionising radiation is only a threat to health when a person is exposed to a significantly high dose, such as after the disaster that occurred in the nuclear plant at
Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986.
The doses that are used in medical X-rays are very low and are thought to be very safe. They are similar in strength to other sources of natural radiation that people are exposed to every day.