Breast Ultrasound, also known as sonography, uses high-frequency sound waves to look inside a part of the body. A handheld instrument called a transducer is placed on the skin. It will transmit the sound waves through the breast. Echoes from the sound waves are picked up and translated by a computer into a black and white picture that is displayed on the monitor. This test is painless and does not expose you to radiation.
Why a Breast Ultrasound
Breast ultrasound is used to evaluate questions that were raised during a screening or diagnostic mammogram. It can be used to see whether a breast lump is filled with fluid or if it is a solid lump; watch for changes in the size of a cyst; and find the cause of breast pain, swelling or redness. Masses can be many things, including cysts and non-cancerous solid tumors (such as fibroadenomas). But they also could be cancer.
To be sure that a mass is a cyst (non-cancerous, fluid-filled sacs) breast ultrasound is needed. Sometimes the radiologist will recommend removal of the fluid. If this is the case, an aspiration or removal of fluid by a thin, hollow needle will occur.
Fibroadenomas are benign (not cancerous) breast tumors/lumps that are made of glandular and fibrous breast tissue. A fibroadenoma will be easier to distinguish from other tissue with an ultrasound test because of the way it responds to sound waves. If there is a question, the most conclusive test is a fine needle biopsy or a core needle biopsy to get a sample of the cells for a pathologist to examine.
Your prior mammograms and ultrasounds may help show that a mass has not changed for many years. This would mean that the mass is likely a benign condition and a biopsy is not needed. If you are a patient established with our practice we will have these old images available to our radiologists. If you have not been to the center before please bring these with you so that they available for the radiologist.
In order for the radiologist to definitively find cancer, a breast biopsy will be needed. The procedure will most likely be recommended right after the ultrasound.
Preparing for a Breast Ultrasound
Wear a two-piece outfit so that it is easy to undress above the waist. Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts. You will need to undress from above the waist and put on a gown. All jewelry should be removed from around your neck.
The Breast Ultrasound Exam
At our facility, a breast ultrasound is done by a specially trained technologist.
Gel will be put on your breast so the transducer can pick up the sound waves as it is moved back and forth over the breast. A picture of the breast tissue can be seen on the monitor. The technologist will usually look at the whole breast. She also will take several pictures during the examination and offer her opinion to you on what she is seeing.
A breast ultrasound test usually takes between 15 and 30 minutes. More time may be needed if a breast biopsy is required.