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Diagnostics & Testing

Breast Ultrasound

In ultrasonography, or ultrasound, high-frequency sound waves, inaudible to the human ear, are transmitted through the breast. The echoes are recorded and transformed into video or photographic images. The sound waves are directed at an area of interest through the use of a probe, which can allow close evaluation of a small area of tissue.

Ultrasound images help in the diagnosis of a wide range of diseases and conditions, including breast cancer. The scientific basis for ultrasonography came from sonar technology, which makes use of sound waves to detect underwater objects.

Ultrasound may be used alone or with other diagnostic procedures. Because only a small area is imaged, ultrasound is not well-suited to screening large areas of breast tissue at a time.

How is ultrasound used on the breasts?

Ultrasound may be used to determine whether a breast lump is a cyst (containing fluid) or a solid mass. Fluid is typically withdrawn from all cysts by a needle and syringe (a process called aspiration). If clear fluid is removed, and the mass completely disappears, no further treatment or evaluation is needed.

Ultrasound also can be used to precisely locate the position of a known tumor that cannot be felt in order to guide the physician during a biopsy procedure. Ultrasound helps confirm the needle placement during a biopsy, using sound waves reflected off breast tissue so that the exact location of breast tissue is biopsied.

Are there any side effects?

Studies have shown that ultrasound is not hazardous. There are no harmful side effects. In addition, ultrasound does not use radiation, as X-ray tests do.

What happens during the test?

There is no special preparation for the ultrasound test.

  • You will be asked to change into a hospital gown. You may consider wearing a two-piece outfit on the day of the test so that you only need to remove your top.
  • You will lie on an examining table during the test.
  • A small amount of water-soluble gel is applied to the skin over the area to be examined. The gel does not harm your skin or stain your clothes.
  • A probe, which looks like a little paddle, is gently applied against the skin.

After the test, the gel will be wiped off your skin. Your physician will discuss the test results with you.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/2/2008...#9575