What is a breast ultrasound?
Ultrasound imaging (also called sonography) is a diagnostic technique developed from sonar and radar technology, which has been in widespread use for more than 40 years. Ultrasound imaging uses sound waves with a frequency above the range audible to the human ear—“ultrasound”—to create images of internal organs, structures, and tissues. The sound waves are transmitted by a handheld device known as a transducer, which sends short pulses of sound waves into the body. As these waves reflect, or echo, back from the internal tissues, they are received by the transducer, which sends them to a computer that transforms the reflected waves into a visual image.
We use breast ultrasound to clarify the findings of a mammogram and to help determine if a lump or mass detected on a mammogram is solid tissue or a fluid-filled cyst. Ultrasound enables us to make diagnostic recommendations and to avoid unnecessary surgical procedures.
Ultrasound is not a substitute for a mammogram as it is poor at detecting microcalcifications that may indicate the earliest form of breast cancer. However it can be used as a supplementary imaging test to identify breast masses that may be impossible to see on a mammogram due to dense breast tissue.
How do I get ready for the test?
A breast ultrasound does not require any special preparation. On the day of the test you should wear comfortable clothes, and you may be asked to change into a gown when you arrive at the ultrasound exam site.
What will happen during the test?
During a breast ultrasound the sonographer will ask you to lie face up on the exam table. He/she will cover the skin over the breast with a small amount of warm gel to prevent air pockets from forming between the transducer and skin. The sonographer will then glide the transducer over your breast to capture the images of the tissue below the skin, which the transducer then sends to a computer. A breast ultrasound exam is typically painless and takes less than 30 minutes to complete.
Are there any risks?
Ultrasound does not require the use of ionizing radiation, special dyes, or anesthesia and is a safe diagnostic tool with no known risks or side effects.
After the test
After the exam you can immediately resume your normal activities. A radiologist will analyze the ultrasound images and will share the results with the doctor who requested the exam. Your doctor will then discuss the results with you. In some cases the radiologist may discuss results with you at the conclusion of your examination.