A breast ultrasound is a type of imaging test that a doctor may order to check for tumors or other breast abnormalities. A breast ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce detailed images of the inside of your breast.
To conduct a conventional breast ultrasound, a healthcare professional will use a handheld device called a transducer to create images of your breast.
Unlike X-rays and CT scans, ultrasounds don’t use radiation and are considered safe for pregnant people.
Common uses of the procedure
A doctor may order a breast ultrasound if a physical exam or mammogram reveals a breast abnormality, such as:
● a lump in your breast
● a tender or painful area in your breast
● a change in the texture or appearance of your nipple or breast skin
● unusual discharge from your nipple
● If you have a lump in your breast, an ultrasound will help your doctor determine whether it’s a fluid-filled cyst or a solid tumor. It also allows them to determine the location and size of the lump.
Sometimes a breast ultrasound may be used instead of a mammogram to screen for breast cancer, including:
● in pregnant people and people under age 35 years,
● in people who have dense breast tissue, which reduces the visibility of tumors in mammograms
● A breast ultrasound may also be used to check for leaks or other problems with breast implants.
How to prepare and what to expect
Avoid applying powders, lotions, or cosmetics to your breast before the ultrasound. These products may interfere with the accuracy of the test.
Avoid wearing jewelry to your appointment or make sure that you can easily remove it if asked.
Wear a top that you can easily remove during your ultrasound appointment. You’ll be asked to undress from the waist up.
Results of a breast ultrasound
The images that a breast ultrasound produces are in black and white. Cysts, tumors, and growths will appear as dark areas on the scan. However, a dark spot on your ultrasound doesn’t mean that you have breast cancer. Most breast lumps are benign, or noncancerous. Several conditions can cause benign lumps in the breast, including:
● fibrocystic breast disease, in which hormonal changes cause the breasts to become lumpy and tender
● fibroadenoma, which is a benign tumor of the breast tissue
● intraductal papilloma, which is a benign tumor of the milk duct
● breast fat necrosis, which is a lump of damaged or dead tissue in the breast
Benefits vs. risks
A breast ultrasound doesn’t pose any risks, and it has many benefits. A breast ultrasound can help your doctor learn whether you:
● have a lump in your breast
● have a lump that’s a fluid-filled cyst or a solid tumor
● need additional tests to check for breast cancer
● If you have breast cancer, early diagnosis and treatment will help improve your outlook. An ultrasound is often part of the diagnostic process.