A breast ultrasound is a noninvasive imaging technique that employs high-frequency sound waves to visualize the internal structure of your breasts. It does not use radiation.

Breast ultrasounds can assist your physician in finding abnormalities and are often used to supplement a mammogram screening. An ultrasound also enables your doctor to check how effectively blood is delivered to the tissues in your breasts.

A breast ultrasound procedure is commonly used when an anomaly is detected physically but does not appear on a mammogram.

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Why would I need a breast ultrasound?

Breast ultrasound procedures are typically performed to support a diagnosis from a previous screening. If you have had a screening or diagnostic mammogram, your physician might want additional ultrasound testing to check areas of the breast the mammogram might have missed.

A breast ultrasound is also frequently recommended under the following circumstances:

  • The patient has an elevated breast cancer risk, and a breast MRI is medically inappropriate
  • The patient is pregnant, and mammography is unadvisable
  • The patient has highly dense breast tissue, making mammogram readings difficult

Breast ultrasound is often advised to determine the nature of the growth. Ultrasound imaging can help your physician determine whether the mass is solid tissue or a fluid-filled sac.

Breast Ultrasound vs. Mammogram

Breast ultrasound and mammography support each other. Because mammograms are the best tools for standard screening, they are necessary for routine health checks. However, abnormalities that are felt but not visible in mammogram imaging are likely to be identified during a breast ultrasound.

Additionally, breast ultrasound screenings are recommended for patients who cannot undergo radiation imaging procedures. 

How is a breast ultrasound performed?

Ultrasound imaging uses sound waves to generate digital pictures. When sound waves bounce against breast tissue, the reverberating echoes are measured, which is how the internal structure is recreated on-screen.

When you undergo a breast ultrasound, you will be positioned on either your side or back on an examination table with your arm raised above your head. The radiologist will apply a gel to the breast, minimizing the amount of air between the site and the transducer. This gel helps the transducer capture the sound waves more clearly, generating a clearer image.

The physician will then pass the handheld transducer over the breast, continually moving it back and forth until an image is generated on the screen.

While some pressure is applied, the experience is generally more comfortable than a standard mammogram, which compresses the breasts.

Once the procedure is finished, the physician will provide moistened wipes to remove the gel. The gel is water-based, non-comedogenic, and will not stain.

How do I prepare for a breast ultrasound?

Breast ultrasound screenings do not require special preparation. However, it is best to avoid wearing lotions, powders, or sunblock on your breast area before the exam.

How long does a breast ultrasound take?

A breast ultrasound appointment typically takes under one hour; the procedure itself is only about 30 minutes.

Does a breast ultrasound have any risks?

Breast ultrasound screenings do not carry medical risks; they are noninvasive and do not require contrast solutions. However, it’s important to note that additional screenings – and possibly a biopsy – could be necessary.

Please note that a doctor's referral is required for a breast ultrasound and all other services except for Mammogram.