Breast Ultrasound

What Is a Breast Ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound, also called sonography, is an imaging technique in which high-frequency sound waves are bounced off tissues and internal organs (in this case, the breast). Their echoes produce a picture called a sonogram. Ultrasound imaging of the breast is sometimes used in conjunction with mammography to evaluate areas of concern. For example, ultrasound can be used to further the diagnosis of a breast abnormality, by distinguishing between solid growths and fluid-filled cysts.

Ultrasound has the advantage of producing images without need of ionizing radiation. It is the preferred imaging technology for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, have implants, or are under the age of 25. 

What Should I Expect When I Have a Breast Ultrasound?

During a breast ultrasound examination, the clinician spreads a thin coat of lubricating jelly over the area of the breast to improve the conduction of the sound waves. A hand-held device, called a transducer, directs 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, which can provide an image of a mass within the breast.

An ultrasound of the breast is not used for routine breast cancer screenings because it does not consistently detect certain early signs of cancer such as microcalcifications (tiny deposits of calcium in the breast that cannot be felt but can be seen on a conventional mammogram). A cluster of microcalcifications may indicate that cancer is present.

When Would I Need a Breast Ultrasound?

Breast ultrasounds are often performed as a follow-up to the discovery of lumps during a physical exam or a mammogram. Other reasons for a breast ultrasound include:

  • Assessments of nipple discharge
  • Evaluation of implants
  • Evaluation of inflamed mammary tissues, called mastitis
  • Assessment of discoloration and other types of skin change
  • Investigation of breast pain, swelling, and redness
  • Monitoring of benign lumps
  • Supplemental analysis of mammogram or magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) exam results

How Do I Prepare for a Breast Ultrasound?

There are several things to keep in mind as you prepare for a breast ultrasound:

  • Your physician will explain the procedure to you. This is a good time to ask any questions you may have.
  • You’re permitted to eat and drink before an ultrasound.
  • Do not apply any lotions or powders to your breasts prior to the exam. It is also better not to wear jewelry or a watch.
  • You should wear clothing that is easily removed. 
  • Follow any instructions provided by the radiologist or medical technician. 

You should learn the results within a few days of the procedure. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a lump, waiting can be the most difficult part of the process. The good news is that about 80 percent of all breast lumps – that’s four out of every five – prove to be benign. 

An Important Way to Maintain Breast Health

Breast health is an important facet of every woman’s overall health. Be sure to undergo regular breast-health screenings according to a physician-recommended schedule. For more information on mammograms, ultrasounds, and breast health, please see your Baptist Health physician.