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Breast ultrasound

Definition

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

Alternative Names

Ultrasonography of the breast; Sonogram of the breast; Breast lump - ultrasound

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.

Your health care provider will place a gel on the skin of your breast. A handheld device, called a transducer, is moved over the breast area. You may be asked to raise your arms above your head and turn to the left or right.

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

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.

A mammogram may be needed either before or after the exam. Do not use any lotion or powder on your breasts on the day of the exam. Do not use deodorant under your arms. Remove any jewelry from your neck and chest area.

How the Test will Feel

This test usually does not cause any discomfort, although the gel may feel cool.

Why the Test is Performed

Breast ultrasound is usually ordered when more information is needed after other tests are done or as a stand-alone test. These tests may include mammogram or breast MRI.

Your provider may order this test if you have:

A breast ultrasound can:

  • Help tell the difference between a solid mass or a cyst
  • Help look for a growth if you have clear or bloody fluid coming from your nipple
  • 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, which are fluid-filled sacs
  • Fibroadenomas, which are noncancerous solid growths
  • Lipomas, which are 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 whether treatment may be needed include:

Risks

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

Gallery

Female Breast
The female breast is either of two mammary glands (organs of milk secretion) on the chest.

References

American Cancer Society website. American Cancer Society recommendations for the early detection of breast cancer. www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/screening-tests-and-early-detection/american-cancer-society-recommendations-for-the-early-detection-of-breast-cancer.html. Updated December 19, 2023. Accessed February 4, 2024.

James JJ, Evans AJ. The breast. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 63.

National Cancer Institute website. Breast cancer screening (PDQ) - health professional version. www.cancer.gov/types/breast/hp/breast-screening-pdq. Updated January 19, 2024. Accessed February 4, 2024.

Phillips J. The breast. In: Rumack CM, Levine D, eds. Diagnostic Ultrasound. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2024:chap 19.

US Preventive Services Task Force website. Breast cancer: screening. www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/uspstf/recommendation/breast-cancer-screening. Updated April 30, 2024. Accessed May 7, 2024.

Last reviewed April 1, 2023 by Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, General Surgery Practice Specializing in Breast Cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Internal review and update on 02/04/2024 by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team..

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