Before agreeing to an x-ray:
* Cross examine your doctor. Ask if the x-ray is really necessary. Are there alternatives such as his taking a full medical history and doing a physical examination? What is he looking for? What is the likelihood of his finding it from the test? Will its findings have any effect on the treatment you'll be given? If absolutely necessary, is it possible to have ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging, which may be less harmful.
* Avoid repeats. Tell your doctor if that part of your body has been x-rayed before. Keep a record of all your x-rays, what they were of, and where and when they were done. If you change your dentist or doctor, ask for your x-rays to be forwarded when you first make the change (many dentists destroy old x-rays after three years instead.
* Be informed. The Royal College of Radiologists produces guidance on when x-rays are and are not likely to be justified. You can get hold of a copy of its booklet, Making the best use of a Department of Clinical Radiology, for lb3 from 38 Portland Place, London 1N 3DG, 071 636 4432. Put your doctor on the spot by asking him if he's following their guidelines.
* Wait until you're certain you're not pregnant. If in any doubt, don't submit to an x-ray unless it's a matter of life and death.
* Refuse all just in case x-rays if you've no symptoms, such as those offered in routine health check ups or as required by a prospective employer.
If you're satisfied the benefits of the x-ray outweigh its risk:
* Check that the equipment to be used is modern and low dose. When was it last serviced and its radiation levels checked?
* Ask who will be doing the x-ray. Is he or she properly trained?
* Follow instructions to the letter to avoid the possibility of having to have an x-ray done again.
* Insist on proper shielding for your testes or ovaries. If necessary, buy your own lead apron and wear it everytime you go along for an x-ray.
* In How to Survive Medical Treatment (Century), Stephen Fulder suggests protecting your body from the radiation's most harmful effects by taking the following cocktail of supplements for several days before having a higher dose x-ray.
* 500 milligrams of vitamin C, 3 to 4 times a day, plus bioflavonoids.
* 100-200 micrograms of selenium a day.
* 30 milligrams of vitamin B2 and B6, and 100 milligrams of B5 (pantothenic acid) a day.
* 250 milligrams of the amino acid cysteine three to four times a day, taken with the vitamin C. Cysteine can be bought in healthfood shops and is found in eggs, onion and garlic.