Ultrasonography (USG)

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What?

Ultrasonography or ultrasound is an imaging method that uses high-frequency waves to image the breast or other parts of the body.

When?

If you’re under age 30, your doctor may recommend ultrasound before mammography to evaluate a palpable breast lump. Mammograms can be difficult to interpret in young women because their breasts tend to be dense and full of milk glands. (Older women’s breasts tend to be more fatty and are easier to evaluate). In mammograms, this glandular tissue looks dense and white—much like a cancerous tumor. Some doctors say that locating an abnormality in the midst of dense gland tissue can be like finding a polar bear in a snowstorm. Most breast lumps in young women are benign cysts, or clumps of normal glandular tissue.

Ultrasonography may be used to detect and classify breast lesions in the following types of women:

  • Women with dense breasts
  • Women with fibrocystic breast disease
  • Women with a lesion that cannot be well classified with mammography alone
  • Young women with masses
  • Pregnant women with masses
  • Women with silicon breast implants
  • Women who refuse exposure to x-rays (mammography)

Doctors also use ultrasound to guide biopsy needles precisely to suspicious spots in the breast, without radiation exposure. Ultrasound is not a substitute for a screening mammogram. Its value as a general screening test for breast cancer is unproven.

How?

Ultrasound sends high-frequency sound waves through your breast and converts them into images on a viewing screen. Ultrasound complements other tests. If an abnormality is seen on mammography or felt by physical exam, ultrasound is the best way to find out if the abnormality is solid (such as a benign fibroadenoma, or cancer) or fluid-filled (such as a benign cyst). It cannot determine whether a solid lump is cancerous, nor can it detect calcifications.

You will be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a medical gown during the test. During the test, you will lie on your back on the examining table.

A water-soluble gel is placed on the breast and a hand-held device (transducer) that directs the sound waves to the breast tissue. The transducer is moved over the surface of the breast to create a picture. The test is then repeated for the other breast, if necessary.

FAQ

How to prepare for the test?
Since you need to remove your clothing from the waist up, it may be helpful to wear a two-piece outfit. On the day of the test, do not use any lotions or powders on your breasts.

How the test will feel?
The number of people involved in the test will be limited to protect your privacy. You will be asked to raise your arms above your head and turn to the left or right as needed. There is no discomfort from the ultrasound device.

What abnormal results mean?
Distinctive patterns may indicate:

  • Cysts
  • Benign lesions
  • Malignant lesions (breast cancer)

What are the risks?
There are no risks associated with ultrasound. It involves no exposure to radiation.