July 03, 2019

Mammogram vs. Ultrasound

Most women are familiar with the mammogram procedure, which is used to detect breast cancer and other problems in breast tissue. Another procedure that can be used to evaluate breast tissue is an ultrasound breast exam. Given that there are certain drawbacks to mammograms, including that they use a small amount of radiation and are somewhat uncomfortable, why isn’t an ultrasound used exclusively for breast assessment? There are a number of reasons.

Ultrasound Breast Exam vs. Mammogram – Which Is Better?

The answer to the question, “Which is better, a mammogram or an ultrasound breast exam?”, is based on many considerations. Generally speaking, mammograms are for screening purposes whereas ultrasounds are more often used for diagnosing conditions affecting breast tissue. Beyond that, there are pros and cons for each procedure.

Mammogram: Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Effective for women who don’t have any symptoms of breast issues Uses a small amount of radiation
Can detect microcalcifications, a common feature with tumors Can cause discomfort from breast compression
Typically, can be completed more quickly than ultrasounds
Safe and effective


Ultrasound: Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
Safe and effective Can’t be used to image the entire breast at once
Uses sound waves rather than radiation Produces more false positives
An important supplemental screening tool for women with dense breast tissue Can’t produce an image of areas deep inside the breast
Better at distinguishing benign cysts from solid masses Can’t detect microcalcifications
Doesn’t cause discomfort from breast compression


Conclusion: Mammogram or Ultrasound

Both mammograms and breast ultrasounds have benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, they should be thought of as procedures that complement one another.

Your doctor will recommend one or both for assessing the health of your breast tissue, depending upon your unique situation. These can include the results of an initial procedure, whether or not you’ve dense breast tissue and other considerations.

Learn more about mammograms and breast ultrasounds at Baptist Health.

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