What is breast ultrasound?
An ultrasound is an imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves to take pictures of internal organs and tissues.
A breast ultrasound provides pictures of the insides of your breasts. This test can give more information about small areas of interest within the breast that may be difficult to see in detail on a mammogram.
When is a breast ultrasound needed?
Typically, healthcare providers don’t use breast ultrasound on its own to screen for breast cancer. More often, they recommend an ultrasound to follow up on suspicious areas seen on a mammogram. Because hand-held ultrasound uses a small probe to check the tissue, it is most useful when there is a specific targeted area of interest within the breast to examine. Mammography is still the best tool for screening the entire breast, even in dense breasts.
A healthcare provider may recommend a breast ultrasound for many different reasons. Some of the most common are:
- Checking if a breast lump is a fluid-filled breast cyst (usually not cancerous) or a solid mass (which may require further testing).
- Investigating a focal area in the breast that appeared abnormal on a mammogram.
- Examining a pregnant woman’s breasts in conjunction with physical exam. Occasionally, a mammogram is also used in pregnant women because radiation doses are very low and the abdomen can be shielded if concern for breast cancer detection is high.
- Guiding a needle into a mass to sample tissue for a biopsy. Pathologists (specialized doctors) can then evaluate the tissue under a microscope to determine if the mass is breast cancer.
How do I prepare for a breast ultrasound?
On the day of your ultrasound, you should not apply any lotion or powder to the skin on or around your breasts or wear deodorant. These substances can interfere with getting clear images from the test. You may be relieved to know that any existing hair does not interfere with the images.
What happens during a breast ultrasound?
When you arrive at your provider’s office or imaging center, you’ll undress from the waist up. You’ll change into a robe or gown that opens in the front. Your provider will ask you to remove jewelry so that it doesn’t interfere with the images.
During the ultrasound, you lie on a table — usually in an angled position to optimize positioning for the imager. The ultrasound technician or radiologist (a doctor specialized in medical imaging) applies a clear, water-based gel to a wand, called a transducer. They move the transducer over the skin on and around your breasts.
The person imaging you can see the ultrasound images on a screen during the test. Representative images are saved to share with your doctors.
When the ultrasound is complete, you or the technician wipe any remaining gel off your skin.
What happens after a breast ultrasound?
After your breast ultrasound the radiologist interprets the images and reports the results to your healthcare provider. If any additional tests are needed, or follow up is recommended, that information is shared with you at the time of the exam.
What are the risks of a breast ultrasound?
Breast ultrasound uses sound waves — not radiation — to produce images. There are no known risks of ultrasound technology.
In some cases, the interpretation of your ultrasound results may lead to additional tests or procedures (such as a biopsy). These additional procedures carry their own risks. Talk with your healthcare provider about the risks to decide which tests are right for you.
Results and Follow-Up
When should I call my doctor?
Call your healthcare provider if you:
- Feel a new or changing lump, dimpling, or other changes in your breast or armpit that are unusual for you.
- Have any nipple discharge, new inversion or skin changes of the nipple.
- Think a breast implant has ruptured.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A breast ultrasound is a safe, painless test to examine targeted areas of breast tissue. Breast ultrasound provides detailed images of breast tissue and can help your provider diagnose breast cysts or lumps. For women with dense breasts, mammography is still the best screening tool. If you have dense breasts or a family history of breast cancer, ask your provider about scheduling a risk assessment with a clinical breast specialists and supplemental screening tools such as MRI and tomosythesis (3D) mammography.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy