Breast Ultrasound

Breast ultrasound is often used to examine some types of breast changes.

When is breast ultrasound used?

Ultrasound is useful for looking at some breast changes, such as lumps (especially those that can be felt but not seen on a mammogram) or changes in women with dense breast tissue. It also can be used to look at a change that was seen on a mammogram.

Ultrasound is useful because it can often tell the difference between fluid-filled cysts (which are very unlikely to be cancer) and solid masses (which might need further testing to be sure they're not cancer).

Ultrasound can also be used to help guide a biopsy needle into an area so that cells can be taken out and tested for cancer. This can also be done in swollen lymph nodes under the arm.

Ultrasound is widely available, easy to have, and does not expose a person to radiation. It also costs less than a lot of other options.

How is it done?

Breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make a computer picture of the inside of the breast.

A gel is put on the skin of the breast, and a wand-like instrument called a transducer is moved over the skin. The transducer sends out sound waves and picks up the echoes as they bounce off body tissues. The echoes are made into a picture on a computer screen. You might feel some pressure as the transducer is moved across the breast, but it should not be painful.

Automated ultrasound is an option that uses a much larger transducer to take hundreds of images that cover nearly the entire breast. When automated ultrasound is used, a second handheld ultrasound is often needed to get more pictures of suspicious areas.

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Bruening W, Uhl S, Fontanarosa J, et al. Noninvasive Diagnostic Tests for Breast Abnormalities: Update of a 2006 Review [Internet]. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2012 Feb. Accessed at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK84530/ on August 25, 2017.

Sedgwick EL. Chapter 12: Imaging Analysis: Ultrasonography. In: Harris JR, Lippman ME, Morrow M, Osborne CK, eds. Diseases of the Breast. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014.

Last Medical Review: September 1, 2017 Last Revised: October 9, 2017

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