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Breast Ultrasound

What is breast ultrasound?

Breast ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at your breasts. It can help your health care provider find breast problems. It also lets your provider see how well blood is flowing to areas in your breasts. This test is often used along with mammography.

The health care provider uses a device called a transducer to make the images of your breasts. The transducer sends out sound waves that bounce off your breast tissue. The sound waves are too high-pitched for you to hear. The transducer then picks up the bounced sound waves. These are made into pictures of your breasts.

Your provider can add another device called a Doppler probe to the transducer. This probe lets your provider hear the sound waves the transducer sends out. He or she can hear how fast blood is flowing through a blood vessel and in which direction it is flowing. No sound or a faint sound may mean that you have a blockage in the flow.

Ultrasound is safe to have during pregnancy because it does not use radiation. It is also safe for people who are allergic to contrast dye because it does not use dye.

Why might I need a breast ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound is most often done to find out if a problem found by a mammogram is a cyst filled with fluid or a solid tumor. You may also have this test to find masses if you have breast tissue too dense for mammography.

Breast ultrasound is not usually done to screen for breast cancer. This is because it may miss some early signs of cancer. Some early signs are tiny calcium deposits (microcalcifications).

Ultrasound may be used if you:

  • Have particularly dense breast tissue. A mammogram may not be able to see through the tissue.
  • Are pregnant. Mammography uses radiation, but ultrasound does not. This makes it safer for the fetus.
  • Are younger than 25 years old
  • Have silicone breast implants

Your health care provider may also use ultrasound to help guide a needle during a breast biopsy or to remove fluid from a cyst (cyst aspiration).

Your provider may have other reasons to recommend a breast ultrasound.

What are the risks of a breast ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound has no risk from radiation. It poses no risk to pregnant women.

Breast ultrasound may miss small lumps or solid tumors that are commonly found with mammography. Being obese or having very large breasts may make the ultrasound less accurate.

You may have risks depending on your specific health condition. Be sure to talk with your provider about any concerns you have before the procedure.

How do I get ready for a breast ultrasound?

  • Your health care provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask him or her any questions you have about the procedure.
  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the test. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything is not clear.
  • You do not need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You also will not need medicine to help you relax (sedation).
  • You should not put any lotion, powder, or 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 reach your chest. The gel put on your skin during the test does not stain clothing, but you may want to older clothing. The gel may not be completely removed from your skin afterward.
  • Follow any other instructions your provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during a breast ultrasound?

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 depending on your condition and your health care provider's practices.

Generally, breast ultrasound follows this process:

  1. You will be asked to remove any jewelry and clothing from the waist up. You will be given a gown to wear.
  2. You will lie on your back on an exam table. You will be asked to raise your arm above your head on the side of the breast to be looked at. Or you may be placed on your side.
  3. The technologist will put a clear gel on the skin over the breast area to be looked at.
  4. The technologist will press the transducer against the skin and move it over the area being studied.
  5. Once the test is done, the technologist will wipe off the gel.

What happens after a breast ultrasound?

You do not need any special care after a breast ultrasound. Your health care provider may give you other instructions, depending on your situation.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure and who will do it
  • When and how will you get the results
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 10/25/2013
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.