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Tumor on an X-Ray

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X-rays are electromagnetic waves that travel through almost all objects, including organic matter and are used to detect any abnormality in the body. Read the article to know more.

Written by

Dr. Sowmiya D

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Varun Chaudhry

Published At August 24, 2022
Reviewed AtAugust 24, 2022

What Are X-Rays?

X-rays are electromagnetic waves that contain high energy. This energy enables the X-rays to pass through the tissues, organs, and bones of the body. X-rays are also called radiographs or contrast studies, or roentgenograms. X-rays are used for medical purposes because they can capture images of various body parts. When the X-rays pass through the body, the images captured look like the shadows formed by parts inside the body.

X-rays are the most common type of imaging. X-rays are frequently used to detect fractures of bones and the presence of tumors in the body. X-rays are used both in humans and animals. X-rays are fast, painless, and minimum preparation is needed.

How Do X-Rays Capture Images?

In order to generate an X-ray image, three things are required - a patient, an X-ray source, and an X-ray detector. The patient is placed in such a way that the area of the body that needs to be radiographed comes in between the source and detector. When the X-rays pass through the body, various parts absorb various quantities of radiation depending on the density and the atomic number of the tissues. For example, bone has a high amount of calcium, due to which bone readily absorbs the radiation and gives out images that look whiter than the surrounding tissues. Less dense tissues like fat and muscle appear in different shades of gray on a radiograph.

X-rays are painless and fast. They do not need any kind of anesthesia. X-rays cause minimum discomfort and can be done during outpatient visits also. X-ray imaging can be performed at a hospital or any diagnostic center. It is always important to remember to remove any metal objects or jewelry from the body. It will take around 15 minutes to perform this procedure. Once the images are captured, the radiograph shall be studied by a radiologist and the doctor for further analysis and to generate a report.

What Are the Different Types of X-Ray Examinations?

  • Plain X-Ray - This is the standard X-ray procedure that is used most often when the doctor mentions an X-ray.

  • Computed Tomography (CT) - This imaging technique needs special equipment that uses electromagnetic radiation. CT produces much clearer pictures of the areas inside the body.

  • Mammography - This procedure uses low-energy radiation that enables the examination of the human breast. It detects breast cancer while it is in its early stages.

  • Angiography - This procedure is used to check blood vessels. Angiography is used to detect any blockage in the blood vessels, especially arteries, veins, and chambers of the heart. Pictures generated through this procedure are called angiograms.

  • Fluoroscopy - This procedure shows a real-time video of the areas inside the body. A contrast dye is either injected or given orally, thereby entering the bloodstream. Fluoroscopy enables the doctor to study the movements and function that is not possible through images.

  • Contrast Studies - These studies use an iodine-based dye along with electromagnetic radiations (X-rays) to capture images of various organs and tissues of the body. A little discomfort and few side effects are observed in these studies. Contrast studies can give some more information that the standard X-ray technique cannot give. Depending on the type of test, iodine-based dye is incorporated into the body via various routes.

  • Angiography and Arteriography - Used to study blood vessels like arteries, veins, and chambers of the heart. Dye is given through a catheter by placing the catheter into the artery.

  • Intravenous Pyelogram - Used to investigate the urinary system. Dye is injected via the vein.

  • Lower Gastrointestinal Series - Used to investigate the lower gastrointestinal system, colon, and rectum. Dye is given via enema.

  • Upper Gastrointestinal Series - Used to investigate the upper gastrointestinal system, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and pancreas. Dye is given orally.

  • Venography- Used to study veins throughout the body. Dye is injected into the vein via a catheter.

What Are the Uses of X-Rays?

X-rays can be used for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.

1. Diagnostic Purposes:

  • Dental abnormalities.

  • Detect bone fracture.

  • Presence of tumors.

  • Abnormal growth in tissues and organs.

  • Pneumonia.

  • Calcifications.

  • Foreign objects in the body.

  • Microcalcifications.

  • Detect clogged arteries.

  • Helps to capture cross-sectional images.

2. Therapeutic Purposes:

Radiation waves used for therapy are of high energy when compared to the X-rays used for diagnosis. Because of this high energy, it can kill the cancer cells and destroy their DNA. As much as it is important to use in the treatment of cancer, radiation therapy carries its risks. The side effects include -

  • Hair loss.

  • Weakness.

  • Forgetfulness.

  • Unable to concentrate.

  • Headache.

  • Skin and eye changes.

  • Dental problems.

Can You See Tumors on X-Rays?

Tumors are visible on X-rays. X-rays penetrate various parts of the body depending on the density and number of atoms present at the receiving end. Since bones have higher density, X-rays readily penetrate them and give out images that are radio-opaque or white. Soft tissues like muscles, fat, and various organs have a lower density, hence appearing as radiolucent or gray. The tumor masses, carcinomatous, and any other abnormal growths that are made of soft tissues appear as shadows on the radiographs. Sometimes contrast medium is also used to know the nature of cancer and the extent of its spread inside the body.

Can Pregnant Women Take X-Rays?

Although debatable, the benefit of X-ray must outweigh the risks involved. If the doctor thinks that the benefit of finding out an abnormality is more beneficial than taking the risk of exposure to the unborn child, an X-ray can be taken. In these specific cases, low-energy radiation is used to protect the fetus. It is always important to discuss with your doctor if one is pregnant or thinking of being pregnant. Though it is low-energy radiation, it is advisable to avoid X-rays if not necessary. X-rays of arms, legs, face, and chest do not expose the unborn baby to radiation. In order to take the X-rays of any other parts of the body, a lead apron may be used to prevent radiation exposure to the fetus.


X-rays are the most common investigating techniques used by doctors for decades. It is the easiest, painless, and fastest diagnostic procedure. With many advancements, the intensity of radiation exposure is reduced for the safety of the patient. Special situations like pregnant women are advised to avoid and postpone the X-ray procedure if unnecessary. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Can We Identify a Tumor on an X-Ray?

X-rays penetrate various body parts depending on the number of atoms and their density. Tumor masses and other abnormal soft tissue growths appear as shadows on the X-ray and can be differentiated from typical structures.


What Are the Various Types of X-Ray Examinations?

There are different types of X-rays based on the techniques and technologies involved. For example, computed tomography (CT), radiography (conventional X-ray), and fluoroscopy use ionizing radiation to produce images. Angiography, contrast studies, venography, and intravenous pyelogram are the other medical imaging techniques used to diagnose and treat various medical conditions.


Do Tumors Show Up on CT Scans?

A CT (computed tomography) scan helps diagnose and stage cancer. CT scans can show the tumor's size, shape, location, and blood vessels feeding cancer. CT scans are also used to determine tumor progress to various treatments.


How Does a Tumor Appear on a CT Scan?

A CT scan can identify the shape and size of the tumor. A contrast is often used in CT scans to make specific tissues visible. The cancer cells take up this contrast medium and appear white on the CT scan.


What Does a Tumor Look Like on an X-Ray?

Soft tissues usually appear as shades of gray on an X-ray as they block less radiation on exposure. Tumor masses are denser than the surrounding normal tissues and often appear as lighter shades of gray.
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Dr. Varun Chaudhry



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