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Most people at some time in their lives have had a roentgenogram or X-ray. These images of the body allow physicians to see what is happening within the abdomen, chest, bones, and skull. They permit the diagnosis of different kinds of illnesses, and some may have to be repeated to follow the results of treatment.

In the past little attention was paid to the amount of radiation that patients were exposed to during X-ray procedures. It took years before it became clear that there was a potential danger of disease or birth defects from excessive radiation. Technical advances have reduced the amount of radiation needed for X-rays and measures can be taken to decrease the amount of exposure that is received by parts of the body that should be protected from radiation.

The question is often raised about whether the danger of X-rays is greater than that of the illness for which they are being done. In children and in young adults there is no doubt that it is important to minimize the amount of radiation. In older people the danger seems to be less pronounced because birth defects are not an issue.

Whether or not X-rays cause cancer in older people is still not completely clear. If X-rays are done carefully and with proper supervision, they do not appear to pose a particular threat to the health of the older person. In most cases any danger from the X-ray is outweighed by the beneficial information that is obtained.

Some X-rays have no real danger other than that related to the amount of radiation received. Other X-rays require special chemical substances that are either swallowed or injected, and they may pose some hazard, especially in the older person. Even when the risk is not particularly great, some X-rays require preparation that can be uncomfortable and difficult for older individuals. These factors must be taken into account before an X-ray is ordered. Sometimes physicians modify the procedure to make it easier for the older person. If you had a difficult time with an X-ray procedure in the past and your physician orders a similar X-ray again, let him know so that appropriate steps can be taken to avoid discomfort and danger.


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