Ultrasound, also known as sonography, is an imaging method in which high-frequency sound waves are used to outline a part of the body. These sound waves are transmitted through the area of the body being studied, and their echoes are picked up and translated by a computer into an image that is displayed on a computer screen. No radiation exposure occurs during this test.
Breast ultrasound is sometimes used to evaluate breast abnormalities that are found at screening or diagnostic mammography, or during a physical exam. It is not routinely used for screening. Some studies have suggested that ultrasound should be considered when screening women with dense breast tissue, which is difficult to evaluate by routine mammography. Using ultrasound instead of mammography, however, is not recommended, because small calcium deposits — a very early sign of cancer — are not made visible by ultrasound.
Ultrasound is useful for evaluation of some breast masses and is the only way to tell whether a cyst is present without placing a needle into it to aspirate fluid. Cysts cannot be accurately diagnosed by physical exam alone. Physicians also sometimes use breast ultrasound to precisely guide a biopsy needle into some types of breast lesions.
What To Expect
You will be asked to undress above the waist and put on a gown, and to remove all jewelry from around your neck.
A technologist will spread a gel on your breast to improve the passage of the sound waves. The transducer will be pressed against your breast and moved back and forth over it. A picture of the breast tissue will be visible on a video monitor.
You will feel light pressure from the transducer as it passes over your breast, but you should feel no discomfort unless your breast is tender because of fibrocystic breast changes, an abscess, or other infection.
A breast ultrasound test usually takes between 15 and 30 minutes. Additional time may be needed if a breast exam will be done before the ultrasound or if a biopsy is also scheduled.
No special preparation is required for this exam; however, it is suggested that you wear a two-piece outfit to make it easy to undress above the waist.