X-rays used for the purpose of medicine are undoubtedly responsible for saving thousands of lives. Finding that one specific broken or fractured bone, discovering that the family pet is sick because it swallowed forty nails and a screwdriver have all been made possible because of X-ray tech. The power of X-ray can be abused, however. Whether it's being used to bust an elderly woman for smuggling weed for her glaucoma (she's so old — give her a break!) or inflicting cancer upon your enemies, X-rays can do some serious damage. Some people are so sensitive to X-rays that they can't even have a single one performed on them for fear of internal damage or receiving high levels of radiation. Here are medical conditions which present a problem when it comes time to getting zapped.
Although the government tells us that multiple low-radiation X-rays can be safe during pregnancy, you don't want to go running off to the doctor just yet. Exposure to over 10 rads (the way in which radiation is measured) while pregnant can possibly result in babies born with retardation and/or deformities, but most X-rays are between 100-1000 millirads. One millirad is a thousandth of a rad, so a pregnant woman would have to undergo about ten CT scans (800 millirads) to reach the 10 rad limit. X-rays around the abdomen, however, tend to be around 300 millirads. Dental X-rays pose little to no threat at all, as each X-ray is 0.01 millirad, and the rest of the body is typically covered with a lead sheet as the dental X-ray is being taken. This is not counting the average 100 millirads of natural radiation sustained from the sun over a course of about nine months. Even so, it would be wise not to max out the ol' rad bank and stay as far away from 10 rads as possible. No X-rays during pregnancy would be ideal, but it's understandable that some unforeseen medical condition may urgently call for an X-ray to be performed. Being overly cautious can somewhat be attributed to the use of statements like 'can be safe,' 'recommended limit,' and 'should be fine' — while modern medicine is quite advanced, there are many things we still don't know. We use phrases that equate to 'well, probably, but we can't be sure' in an attempt to reassure others that things which are possibly unsafe are completely fine.
Controversial Radiation Therapy
In severe cases of cancer, radiation therapy may be called in to try and shrink tumors and destroy cancer cells. X-ray radiation therapy is used for two reasons: an attempt to cure or eradicate the cancer completely, or, in sadder cases, to alleviate painful symptoms inflicted by the cancer upon the patient. X-ray radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA inside cancerous cells, destroying the cell in the process. The main problem is that radiation can't discriminate between cancerous cells and normal ones; all cells are ravaged by radiation therapy. This is where palliative treatments come in, or treatments that aim to relieve symptoms rather than to cure completely. A person with a large, painful tumor in the brain, throat, or beside the spine may receive palliative X-ray radiation treatment to alleviate pain and suffering, or to shrink the tumor in the last phases of the patient's life so that person may live out their days a little more comfortably. X-ray radiation therapy is applied either from a machine which shoots the X-rays at the person, or from a radioactive object placed beside the tumor. Radiation therapy machines can be pretty scary; the patient is strapped to a gurney and rolled into a large white machine, somewhat akin to being abducted by aliens. Even more frightening is the full head mask some patients must wear if they are suffering from a brain tumor; the mask prevents movement during the treatment. Besides the grueling nature of treatment, the side effects are even worse: instead of coveted super powers, the patient gets a whole new world of pain. Memory loss, an excess of scar tissue, bleeding, loose and bloody bowel movements, and puking neon-green slime (seriously) are what you can expect from a person getting radioactive beams shot into their head as a form of 'treatment'.
Typically, walk-in X-ray machines or rooms are suitable for people around 350 pounds and less. That's a lot of weight! Because of that, this may not be a prominent issue in the X-ray world now -- but could be in the future, especially when looking at the growing obesity problems in America and other countries around the world. Soon, we may be faced with a more medical epidemic: fitting all those over-weight people into the X-ray machines. One man in particular, Thomas Lessmann, was feeling quite ill when he decided to visit the doctor. His 500 pound frame would not fit into the X-ray, however, and he was recommended to the local zoo — not in jest, either. The zoo's X-ray machine was fitted to examine large animals such as giraffes, tigers and elephants, and thus would be able to take on Lessmann. However, he was too embarrassed to visit the zoo for his X-ray and consequently died as a result.
Don't Burn the Naughty Bits
X-rays are incredibly helpful, but too much of anything can be cloying — or cancerous. Too many X-rays means too much radiation. Too much radiation means cancer, skin conditions or radiation burns. The genitals are especially sensitive to radiation, which should definitely be taken into consideration when that area has to be X-rayed. A woman's fallopian tubes or uterus can be damaged from X-rays, especially if she has a medical history of being overly sensitive to medical treatment and/or radiation, and damage of this kind can result in infertility. To be fair, 1000-2000 X-rays would realistically be needed to produce lasting harmful effects on an adult.
Certain illnesses, like diabetes, can prevent a person from being x-rayed. Since the kidneys are especially sensitive, X-rays may do more damage to the organs than they normally would. X-rays which use a contrast agent would be especially harmful. In this case, the doctor would either use another means of diagnosing the problem or give the patient special fluids and medicines before and after the X-ray to increase kidney protection.