X-Ray EquipmentBesides working with patients, x-ray technicians get to work with some really neat equipment. For students considering a career in x-ray technology, learning about how all those really cool machines work is half the fun. Though x-ray technician courses will go into much more scientific detail, here are some of the very basic details about how x-ray technology works and how technicians use it on the job.

How does an x-ray machine work?

An x-ray, technically speaking, is a type of light wave made up of photons that is invisible to the human eye. X-ray machines fire high-speed streams of photons that pass through the soft tissue of the body like skin and fat and are absorbed by harder tissue like bones. While this is happening, the x-ray technician takes a photograph that “sees” inside the body to the bones underneath the surface.

How is x-ray film developed?

X-ray film is used just like regular camera film, except that it is usually left as a negative instead of fully processed. With the image still in negative form, the color is reversed. That way, the parts of the body that the photons (or “light”) pass through appear dark, and the parts of the body that absorb photons like bones show up bright white. This allows doctors to see visible fractures and other problems.

What can and can’t be seen on an x-ray?

In addition to seeing fractured bones, doctors can also use x-rays to see foreign objects in the digestive system and joint swelling and erosion that are common in arthritis patients. By changing the x-ray procedure somewhat, it’s sometimes possible to examine softer tissue like organs or blood vessels. X-ray technology has limits, though. While it’s possible to detect lung cancer and breast cancer with x-ray technology, many types of cancer do not show up on radiographs.

How do x-ray technicians protect themselves from radiation?

As some of the best doctors and scientists discovered, working with radiation can be very dangerous. Marie Curie, best known for her work with radiation, died from cancer caused by a lifetime of exposure to radioactive material. Wilhelm Roentgen, the man who discovered x-rays and set the groundwork for using x-ray machines for diagnostic purposes, had the foresight to protect himself from radiation by using lead shields in his laboratory.

Today’s x-ray technicians take many precautions to ensure that they and their patients receive minimal exposure to radiation. It is standard practice for x-ray technicians to wear lead aprons while taking x-rays, just like patients are draped with lead aprons to cover vulnerable body parts that are not being photographed. They may also wear lead-lined gloves and use other shielding equipment. Many hospitals require x-ray technicians to wear devices that measure long-term exposure to radiation to make sure they are not accumulating dangerous levels of radiation in their bodies over time.

Because we now know about the effects of radiation and how too much exposure to x-rays can cause radiation sickness and cancer, today’s x-ray technicians work in safe environments and take many precautions. A standard component of any x-ray technician certificate program is learning how to stay safe on the job.

To learn information about x-ray technician programs, see this list of X-Ray Technician Schools to request information.