Ultrasound, also known as sonography, uses sound waves to look inside the body. A handheld instrument placed on the skin sends the sound waves through the breast. Echoes from the sound waves are picked up and translated by a computer into a black and white image on a computer screen. This test is painless and does not expose you to radiation.
Ultrasound is useful for evaluating some breast masses that are found on a mammogram or on a physical exam. It has become a valuable tool because it is widely available, non-invasive and costs less than other options.
This test helps distinguish between cysts (fluid-filled sacs) and solid masses and sometimes can help tell the difference between benign and cancerous tumors. Still, ultrasound cannot be used instead of mammograms for breast cancer screening.
Breast ultrasound may also be used to help doctors guide a biopsy needle into some breast lesions.
What to Expect
Ultrasound can be done in a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. You will lie down on a table, and the technologist will put a gel on your skin and move the transducer over the area. During the test the technologist or the doctor moves the transducer as it is firmly pressed to your skin. You may feel slight pressure from the transducer, but you won’t hear the high-frequency sounds or any pain.
An ultrasound usually takes 20 to 30 minutes, but the length of time depends on the type of exam and how hard it is to find any changes in the organs being studied.
Ultrasound is one of many types of imaging services offered at Woman’s Hospital.