Breast Ultrasound

A breast ultrasound is an imaging test your provider uses to get pictures of the inside of your breast. You might need a breast ultrasound if your provider wants another look at an area that was abnormal or unclear on a mammogram. Your provider might also recommend getting a breast ultrasound in addition to a mammogram for breast cancer screenings.

Overview

What is a breast ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound is an imaging test that healthcare providers use to take pictures of the inside of your breast. It can allow your provider to focus on a small area of your breast that they need to see more closely. Providers might have you get one after a mammogram to get a detailed look at changes they see, or in addition to a mammogram to screen for breast cancer.

What will a breast ultrasound show?

A breast ultrasound can show whether a breast lump is a fluid-filled breast cyst (usually not cancerous) or a solid mass (which could be cancer and may need further testing).

When do you need a breast ultrasound?

Your healthcare provider might order a breast ultrasound if:

  • They want to get another look at a specific area of your breast that was abnormal, unclear or looked different than the rest of your breast on a mammogram.
  • You or your provider can feel a lump in your breast.
  • You have a specific area of breast pain.
  • You have dense breast tissue. Your provider may recommend getting an ultrasound in addition to a mammogram as part of routine cancer screening.
  • You’re younger than the recommended age for routine mammograms.

Providers can also use a breast ultrasound during a biopsy to make sure they take a sample of tissue from the right spot. A pathologist can then look at the tissue under a microscope to diagnose or rule out breast cancer.

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Test Details

How does a breast ultrasound work?

To get images of the inside of your breast, an ultrasound technician moves a handheld device (transducer) over your breast and surrounding tissues. The transducer uses high-frequency sound waves to take pictures of the tissues and structures inside. The technician uses a computer monitor to look at the images the transducer collects.

How do I prepare for a breast ultrasound?

On the day of your ultrasound, don’t wear deodorant or use lotions or powders on or around your breasts. These products can make it hard to get clear images. You also might want to wear comfortable clothing so it’s easier to change.

What can I expect during a breast ultrasound?

During a breast ultrasound:

  1. You’ll undress from the waist up and remove any jewelry.
  2. You’ll change into a gown or robe that opens in the front.
  3. You’ll lie on an exam table. The ultrasound technician will help you get into the best position, lying with your arm resting over your head.
  4. The technician will apply a clear, water-based gel to your breast and the transducer.
  5. They’ll put the transducer on your breast and move it into position to get the images they need.
  6. They’ll save the best images of the area. They might step out to consult with your provider. This doesn’t necessarily mean they found anything concerning.
  7. The provider may also come into the room and scan your breast to see the pictures live or in real time.

How long does a breast ultrasound take?

A breast ultrasound takes about half an hour.

What can I expect after a breast ultrasound?

When the ultrasound is complete, you or the technician will wipe any remaining gel off your skin. A radiologist will look at and interpret the images. Your provider will tell you if you need any follow-up tests or procedures. Sometimes, the provider will recommend a biopsy based on the images. They’ll schedule the biopsy before you leave.

Does a breast ultrasound have any risks or limitations?

Breast ultrasounds create images with sound waves, so there’s no exposure to radiation. There are no known risks of ultrasound technology. But it’s limited — providers usually use it to see one specific area of your breast. That’s why mammography is still the best tool for looking at your entire breast. If you’re at an increased risk of breast cancer, your provider may recommend a breast ultrasound in combination with a mammogram for screening.

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Results and Follow-Up

When do I get the results of my breast ultrasound?

You should know the results of your breast ultrasound by the end of your appointment. Your provider will let you know if what they see on the ultrasound looks noncancerous (benign), like a cyst, or is potentially cancerous (malignant). They’ll schedule or perform follow-up procedures right away.

When should I call my provider?

Call your healthcare provider if you:

  • Feel a new or changing lump, dimpling, or other changes in your breast or armpit.
  • Have any nipple discharge, new inversion (a nipple that’s pointing in when it used to point out or vice versa) or skin changes on your nipples.
  • Think a breast implant has ruptured.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you need a breast ultrasound, your mind might go to the worst-case scenario. You may feel vulnerable and anxious about the process. But know that a breast ultrasound is a safe, noninvasive way for a provider to get a better look at a specific area of your breast. Your technician will help make you as comfortable as possible.

Many lumps aren’t cancerous. But no matter what the results are, your healthcare team will help you through the next steps.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/03/2024.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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