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Breast ultrasound

Breast ultrasound is a test that uses sound waves to examine the breasts.

Alternative Names

Ultrasonography of the breast; Sonogram of the breast

How the Test is Performed

You will be asked to undress from the waist up. You will be given a gown to wear.

During the test, you will lie on your back on an examining table.

The doctor or nurse will place a gel on the breast skin. A hand-held device, called a transducer, is moved over the breast area. You will be asked to raise your arms above your head and turn to the left or right as needed.

The device sends sound waves to the breast tissue. The sound waves help create a picture that can be seen on a computer screen.

The number of people involved in the test will be limited to protect your privacy.

How to Prepare for the Test

You may want to wear a two-piece outfit, so you do not have to completely undress.

On the day of the test, do not use any lotion or powder on your breasts. Do not use deodorant under your arms. Remove jewelry from your neck and chest area.

How the Test will Feel

This test usually does not cause any discomfort.

Why the Test is Performed

Breast ultrasound is usually ordered when more information is needed after other tests are done. These tests may include mammogram or breast MRI .

Your health care provider may order this test if you have:

  • A breast lump found during a breast exam
  • An abnormal mammogram
  • Clear or bloody nipple discharge

A breast ultrasound can help:

  • Tell the difference between a solid mass or a cyst
  • Look for a growth if you have clear or bloody fluid coming from your nipple
  • Breast ultrasound may also be used to guide a needle during a breast biopsy

Normal Results

A normal result means the breast tissue appears normal.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Ultrasound can help show noncancerous growths such as:

  • Cysts -- fluid-filled sacs
  • Fibroadenomas -- noncancerous solid growths
  • Lipomas -- noncancerous fatty lumps that can occur anywhere in the body, including the breasts

Breast cancers can also be seen with ultrasound.

Follow-up tests to determine treatment may be needed:

Risks

There are no risks associated with breast ultrasound. There is no radiation exposure.

References

Katz VL, Dotters, D. Breast diseases: diagnosis and treatment of benign and malignant disease. In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 15.

Stavros TA. The breast. In: Rumack CM, Wilson SR, Charboneau JM, et al., eds. Diagnostic Ultrasound. Philadelphia Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2010:chap 20.

Lee, CH, Dershaw D, Kopans D, et al. Breast cancer screening with imaging: recommendations from the Society of Breast Imaging and the ACR on the use of mammography, breast MRI, breast ultrasound, and other technologies for the detection of clinically occult breast cancer. JACR. 2010;7:18-27.

Updated: 11/15/2013

Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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