Breast Ultrasound

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A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make a picture of the tissues inside the breast. A breast ultrasound can show all areas of the breast, including the area closest to the chest wall, which is hard to study with a mammogram. Breast ultrasound does not use X-rays or other potentially harmful types of radiation.

A breast ultrasound is used to see whether a breast lump is filled with fluid (a cyst) or if it is a solid lump. An ultrasound does not replace the need for a mammogram, but it is often used to check abnormal results from a mammogram.

For a breast ultrasound, a small handheld unit called a transducer is gently passed back and forth over the breast. A computer turns the sound waves into a picture on a TV screen. The picture is called a sonogram or ultrasound scan.

Why It Is Done

Breast ultrasound can add important information to the results of other tests, such as a mammogram or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It also may provide information that is not found with a mammogram. A breast ultrasound may be done to:

  • Find the cause of breast symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and redness.
  • Check a breast lump found on breast self-examination or physical examination.
  • Check abnormal results from a mammogram.
  • Look at the breasts in younger women because their breast tissue is often more dense, and a mammogram may not show as much detail.
  • Guide the placement of a needle or other tube to drain a collection of fluid (cyst) or pus (abscess), take a sample of breast tissue (biopsy), or guide breast surgery.
  • Watch for changes in the size of a cyst or a noncancerous lump (fibroadenoma).
  • Check your breasts if you have silicone breast implants or dense breasts. In these situations, a mammogram may not be able to see breast lumps.

What To Think About

  • An ultrasound-guided breast biopsy may allow your doctor to confirm a suspicious lump is not cancer (benign) without surgery.
  • A breast ultrasound may occasionally be used instead of a mammogram if you are younger than 30 and have concerns about X-rays or should not be exposed to any radiation because you are pregnant. To learn more, see the topic Mammogram.
  • A breast ultrasound may be useful for screening young women with a family history of breast cancer. More study is needed to see if ultrasound is good for this purpose.
  • An ultrasound does not replace a mammogram. An ultrasound can be used to check a problem seen on a mammogram. It can also be used to show more detail in women who have dense breasts.
  • A breast MRI is another type of test that may be used for breast exams after surgery or to check dense breast tissue. Breast MRI may be used along with a mammogram and breast ultrasound to check breasts or breast lumps.