Breast Ultrasound

Breast ultrasound is a test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the breast tissue. It is often used along with mammography (breast X-ray) for breast cancer screenings, especially in women with dense breast tissue.

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Answers to Your Breast Ultrasound Questions

Breast ultrasound is a test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the breast tissue. It is often used along with mammography (breast X-ray) for breast cancer screenings, especially in women with dense breast tissue.

Breast Cancer Screening and Breast Imaging

UC Health provides a variety of breast cancer screening and imaging methods to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment. Our dedicated breast imaging team is committed to providing the best possible care for each patient.

Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS): Automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) is an option at some imaging centers. This technique uses a much larger transducer to take hundreds of images that cover nearly the entire breast. ABUS might sometimes be done as an added screening exam for women who have dense breasts.

Early-Stage Breast Cancer Detection

Early-stage breast cancer can often be difficult to detect by mammography due to dense breast tissue or small tumors that may not show up on an X-ray. In these cases, a breast ultrasound can be used to better detect early breast cancer. The ultrasound can also be used to more accurately measure the size and shape of any detected tumors.

Complementary Diagnostic Tool

Breast ultrasounds can also be used as a supplemental screening alongside mammography to provide a better understanding of a patient’s breast cancer diagnosis. Ultrasound imaging can help identify the size, shape and precise location of a tumor, as well as detect any possible abnormalities in the surrounding breast tissue.

Risk Factor Analysis

For those with a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors associated with elevated breast cancer risk, breast ultrasound may be recommended as an additional screening tool to detect potential abnormalities. Ultrasound imaging can help distinguish between benign and malignant tumors, enabling doctors to reach the most accurate diagnosis.

Differences in Breast Tissue

Breast ultrasound can also be used to measure the differences in breast tissue density, which can help doctors better monitor any changes in density over time.

Ultrasound doesn't use radiation and is safer during pregnancy than other imaging tests that use radiation. It's also safe for people who are allergic to contrast dye because no dye is needed.

Small lumps and solid tumors, which are sometimes discovered with mammography, may go undetected by breast ultrasound.

The ultrasound's accuracy may be reduced if you're overweight or have particularly large breasts.

A breast ultrasound is a test that is done to see if a breast lesion that was seen on a mammogram or felt during a physical exam is a cyst (a sac of fluid) or a solid tumor.

Breast ultrasound may be recommended for several reasons:

  • To evaluate a breast lump that can't be felt or seen on a mammogram
  • To evaluate a breast lump that can be felt but doesn't appear on a mammogram
  • To evaluate changes in the breast seen on a previous ultrasound
  • To help guide a needle biopsy
  • If you have very dense breast tissue. A mammogram may not be able to see through the tissue.
  • If you are pregnant. Mammograms use radiation, but ultrasound does not. This makes it safer for the baby.
  • If you have a cyst that needs to be drained.
  • If you have breast implants. Ultrasound can show leaks or ruptures.

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to advise a breast ultrasound.

Getting ready for a breast ultrasound is not complicated, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the process to you. Ask any questions you have so you know what to expect.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that permits providers to do the test. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything isn't clear.
  • You don't need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You won't need medicine to help you relax.
  • Don't put lotion, powder or any other substances on your breasts on the day of the test.
  • Wear clothing that you can easily take off, or wear clothing that lets the radiologist or technologist reach your chest. The gel put on your skin during the test doesn't stain clothing, but you may want to wear older clothing. The gel may not be completely removed from your skin afterward.
  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you to get ready.

You may have a breast ultrasound as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary, but for the most part, here’s what you can expect:

  • You'll be asked to take off any jewelry and clothing from the waist up. You'll be given a gown to wear.
  • You'll lie on your back on an exam table. You'll be asked to raise your arm above your head on the side of the breast to be looked at. You may be asked to lie on your side, too.
  • The technologist will put a clear, warm gel on your skin over the breast area to be looked at.
  • The technologist will press the transducer against your skin and slide it over the area being studied.
  • Once the test is done, the technologist will wipe off the gel.
  • The test will take approximately 15-20 minutes.

After a breast ultrasound, you can go about your normal activities. There is no recovery period.

The resulting ultrasound images will be interpreted by a radiologist (a doctor who specializes in medical imaging). The radiologist will then send a report to your primary care doctor or the doctor who referred you for the test.

Your doctor will go over the results with you and explain what they mean. If the ultrasound shows an abnormal area, you may need to have additional tests. These could include a biopsy, a breast MRI or a mammogram.

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