Ultrasonography, commonly referred to as ultrasound, is a harmless test that uses high-frequency sound waves sent from a transducer, an instrument that resembles a microphone. As the transducer moves over the breast tissue, a picture on a monitor shows the internal structures of the breasts. These pictures, unlike a mammogram, use no radiation and allow the physician to observe the breast structures in motion. This test does not require any surgery or needles. You do not need to do any advance preparation and the test is painless.
Ultrasounds are usually used when an abnormality has been found in a breast during a mammography exam. The test determines if the suspicious area is solid tissue or a cyst filled with fluid. Ultrasound accurately locates and correctly distinguishes the makeup of a lump more than 95 percent of the time. Breast cysts are easily identified by ultrasound. This test is also very useful to diagnose lumps found in pregnant women for whom mammography is not advised, and for women with very dense breasts.
Ultrasound can aid the physician in locating a cyst to withdraw fluid or to perform a needle biopsy of a lump. Being able to see the lump while withdrawing fluid or performing a biopsy increases the accuracy of the procedure. Ultrasound visualization also allows the physician to monitor the area immediately following the procedure to observe any changes.
There is no preparation for ultrasound and there is no discomfort associated with the test (unless you cannot lie flat without discomfort). You will need to lie on a table undressed from the waist up for then the sonographer will apply a gel or oil substance to the breast to improve the transmission of the sound waves. The transducer will be moved over the breast while photographic images are displayed on a video monitor. A radiologist who specializes in reading ultrasound images (sonograms) will interpret the films. The results of your ultrasound will be sent to the referring physician.
Ultrasound is not recommended by the American College of Radiology as the best method of detecting cancer by screening, but rather as an add-on procedure after mammography has located an area that needs further evaluation. It is best used to clarify results of a mammogram or when mammography is not suitable because of pregnancy or other reasons.