Breast Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

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Breast ultrasound

Ultrasound, also known as sonography, is an imaging method using sound waves to look inside a part of the body. In the most common version of this test, a small, microphone-like instrument called a transducer is placed on the skin (which is often first lubricated with ultrasound gel). It emits sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off body tissues. The echoes are converted by a computer into a black and white image on a computer screen. This test is painless and does not expose you to radiation.

Breast ultrasound is often used to evaluate breast problems that are found during a screening or diagnostic mammogram or on physical exam. Ultrasound helps distinguish between cysts (fluid-filled sacs) and solid masses. In someone with a breast mass, it can be used to look for enlarged lymph nodes. Breast ultrasound is often used to guide a needle to biopsy breast lesions and enlarged lymph nodes. It can also be used to guide a needle to draw fluid from cysts.

The use of ultrasound instead of mammograms for breast cancer screening is not recommended. But it is sometimes used in addition to mammogram to screen certain women, such as those with dense breasts (for whom mammography may not be as helpful). When it is used for screening, a newer version of breast ultrasound can be used that uses a large transducer that fits in place over most or all of the breast at once. This allows the whole breast to be scanned in a much shorter time.

Last Medical Review: 09/10/2014
Last Revised: 09/10/2014