What is a breast ultrasound?
Ultrasound imaging (also called sonography) uses sound waves that the human ear cannot hear to image the breast. It has been in widespread use for more than 40 years. The sound waves are transmitted by a handheld device known as a transducer, which sends brief sound waves into the body. As these waves reflect back from the internal tissues, the transducer receives them and sends them to a computer. The computer transforms the reflected waves into a visual image.
We use breast ultrasound to clarify the findings of a mammogram and to evaluate many clinical symptoms. We also use ultrasound as an added screening test with mammography for women with dense breast tissue.
Many women with dense breast tissue choose to have a screening breast ultrasound performed with their screening mammogram. Doing so finds roughly two more cancers for every 1,000 women. However, it also leads to more follow-up exams and even biopsies of things that turn out not to be cancer. We are happy to discuss whether screening breast ultrasound is right for you.
Ultrasound is not a substitute for a mammogram. It has not been proven to save lives from breast cancer the way that mammography has.
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. You may be asked to change into a gown.
Bring images from any mammograms, breast ultrasound exams, or breast MRIs that you have had at other hospitals or offices on a CD. These will be loaded into our system so the radiologist can compare. This is important as a change from prior images can be a sign of breast cancer.
What will happen during the test?
During a breast ultrasound the sonographer will ask you to lie face up on the exam table. She will place a small amount of warm gel to your breast and will move the transducer over your breast. The transducer captures images of the tissue below the skin. 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 radiation, special dyes, or anesthesia. It has no known risks or side effects.
After the test
After the exam you can resume your normal activities. A radiologist will analyze the ultrasound images and will discuss the results with you.