The X-rays are produced by an electrical machine and the patient stands between the machine and a special screen used for obtaining the image. Patients are asked to remove any metal objects, such as watches and jewellery, that might appear on the picture and cause confusion.
The patient is asked to keep as still as possible for the few seconds it takes for each image to be obtained. The procedure is entirely painless and there are no side effects. The pictures are checked for technical quality by the radiographer and then sent off to the radiologist for reporting.
For more complex examinations this process may take a few hours so the official result of the test is not usually available immediately.
It is one of the ironies of radiological practice that X-rays can both cause cancer and be used to treat it. Nowadays, with the use of very small doses of radiation to produce high quality X-ray images, the risk of cancer after properly supervised X-ray examinations is extremely small; so small as to be of no consequence to any individual.
Because staff in the X-ray department work with X-rays all the time they would, if they stayed beside every patient, over the course of time, be exposed to quite a high dose of radiation. This is why they go behind a screen when the X-ray beam is switched on. The cumulative effect would be significant for them in a way that it is not significant for an individual patient.
Radiation can cause damage to a foetus, which is why, as far as possible, the use of X-rays during pregnancy is kept to the absolute minimum. Any woman who suspects that she is pregnant, and who has been referred for an X-ray examination, should make sure that the radiographers and doctors caring for her know about her condition.