Chest x-ray for lung cancer

A chest x-ray is a test that can help to diagnose lung cancer. It can also check whether a lung cancer has spread. 

Photograph of a chest x-ray

X-rays use high energy rays to take pictures of the inside of your body. They can show up changes in the lungs. Changes can be due to cancer but can also be caused by other lung conditions.

If you have symptoms that could be caused by lung cancer your doctor will arrange for you to have an x-ray.

You have the x-ray in the x-ray or imaging department of the hospital.

Preparing for your x-ray

There is no special preparation for an x-ray. You can eat and drink normally beforehand. Take your medicines as normal.

What happens during your chest x-ray

When you arrive in the x-ray department, the radiographer might ask you to change into a hospital gown. Women may need to remove their bras as metal clips and underwiring can show up on the x-ray.

You usually have a chest x-ray standing up against the x-ray machine. If you can't stand you can have it sitting or lying on the x-ray couch.

The radiographer will help you to get into the correct position. This might take a couple of minutes. The radiographer lines the machine up to make sure it is in the right place. You must keep still.

The radiographer then goes behind a screen to take the x-ray. They can still see and hear you. They might ask you to hold your breath for a few seconds.

X-rays are painless. You won’t feel or see anything. It only takes a fraction of a second. You usually need to have more than one x-ray taken from different angles. So the whole process might take a few minutes.

After your chest x-ray

After the x-ray you can get dressed and go home or back to work. 

Possible risks

An x-ray is a safe test for most people but like all medical tests it has some possible risks. Your doctor and radiographer make sure the benefits of having the test outweigh these risks.


The amount of radiation you receive from an x-ray is small and doesn't make you feel unwell.

The risk of the radiation causing any problems in the future is very small. The benefits of finding out what is wrong outweigh any risk there may be from radiation.

Talk to your doctor if you are worried about the possible effects of x-rays.

Getting your results

Ask your doctor how long it will be until you get your x-ray results. Unless your doctor thinks it’s urgent the results might take a couple of weeks.

Waiting for test results can be a worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can ask them for information. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For support and information, you can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
26 Sep 2019
  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th Edition)

    L Doherty and S Lister
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Management of lung cancer
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2019

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Exposure to ionising radiation from medical imaging: safety advice

    Public Health England, 2014

  • X-rays: what the nurse needs to know
    R Myatt

    Nursing Standard, 2017. Volume 32, Issue 1, Pages 39 - 43

  • Chest X-Rays for Medical Students
    C Clarke and A Dux
    John Wiley & Sons, 2017

Related links