An ultrasound is a test that uses sound waves to produce pictures of the internal structures in the breast. This is a painless test that can show images as well as blood flow to structures. An ultrasound may be used as a supplemental test to evaluate dense breasts, patients with breast implants in place, pregnant patients, or high risk patients.
Ultrasound imaging of the breast is used to distinguish between solid tumors and fluid-filled cysts. Because these images are displayed in “real time,” physicians can observe movement such as blood flow in internal tissues and organs. These types of images can also be used to guide diagnostic procedures such as needle biopsies.
Ultrasound can also be used to evaluate lumps that are hard to see on a mammogram. Sometimes, ultrasound is used as part of other diagnostic procedures, such as fine needle aspiration (also called needle biopsy) in which tissue or fluid is removed with a needle for examination under a microscope to check for signs of disease.
During an ultrasound examination, the clinician spreads a thin coating of lubricating jelly over the area to be imaged to improve conduction of the sound waves. A hand-held device called a transducer directs the sound waves through the skin toward specific tissues. As the sound waves are reflected back from the tissues within the breast, the patterns formed by the waves create a two-dimensional image of the breast on a computer.
Preparing for your exam
You should wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing for your ultrasound exam. Other preparation depends on the type of examination you will have. For some scans your doctor may instruct you not to eat or drink for as many as 12 hours before your appointment. For others you may be asked to drink up to six glasses of water two hours prior to your exam and avoid urinating so that your bladder is full when the scan begins.
During the exam
Most ultrasound examinations are painless, fast and easy. You will lie on your back on a padded table and the examination is generally completed in less that 30 minutes. The physician or technologist will spread a lubricating gel on the area of your body being examined. A transducer, a small hand-held device about the size of a bar of soap, will be placed firmly against the skin and swept back and forth to obtain images. The images are immediately visible on a nearby screen that resembles a computer or television monitor.
Page last updated on Jan. 29, 2010