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Breast ultrasound

 

Definition

Breast ultrasound uses sound waves that cannot be heard by humans to look at the breast.

Alternative Names

Ultrasonography of the breast; Sonogram of the breast

How the test is performed

You will be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a medical gown. During the test, you will lie on your back on the examining table.

A water-soluble gel is placed on the skin of the breast. A hand-held device (transducer) directs the sound waves to the breast tissue. The transducer is moved over the skin of the breast to create a picture that can be seen on a screen.

Breast ultrasound may also be used to guide a needle during a breast biopsy.

How to prepare for the test

Because you need to remove your clothing from the waist up, it may be helpful to wear a two-piece outfit. On the day of the test, do not use any lotions or powders on your breasts or wear deodorant under your arms.

How the test will feel

The number of people involved in the test will be limited to protect your privacy.

You will be asked to raise your arms above your head and turn to the left or right as needed.

There is no discomfort from the ultrasound.

Why the test is performed

Common uses of ultrasound are:

  • In addition to a mammogram or physical exam, if something abnormal is found. If a mammogram shows a growth, ultrasound can help determine whether it is a solid mass or a cyst.
  • By itself, to check a breast lump or nipple discharge
Normal Values

Normal breast tissue.

Normally, the breast tissue will be uniform and will not have any suspicious growths.

What abnormal results mean

Ultrasound can help show noncancerous growths such as cysts, fibroadenomas, or lipomas. A cyst is a fluid-filled sac. A fibroadenoma is a noncancerous solid growth. Lipomas are noncancerous fatty lumps that can occur anywhere in the body, including the breasts.

Breast cancers can also be seen with ultrasound.

What the risks are

There are no risks associated with breast ultrasound. There is no radiation exposure.

References

Kim CH, Bassett LW. Imaging-guided core needle biopsy of the breast. In: Bassett LW, Jackson VP, Fu KL, Fu YS, eds. Diagnosis of Diseases of the Breast. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2005:chap 17.


Review Date: 12/17/2009
Reviewed By: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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