Breast Ultrasound

What is breast ultrasound?

Breast ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the inside of your breasts. It can help your healthcare provider find breast problems.

For this test, a healthcare provider moves a wand-like device called a transducer over your skin. The transducer sends out sound waves that bounce off your breast tissue. The sound waves are too high-pitched for you to hear. The transducer then picks up the bounced sound waves. These are made into pictures of the inside of your breasts.

Ultrasound doesn't use radiation and is safe during pregnancy. It's also safe for people who are allergic to contrast dye because no dye is needed.

Why might I need a breast ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound is most often used to find out if a change seen on a mammogram or felt during a physical exam is a cyst filled with fluid or a solid tumor. 

Breast ultrasound isn't used to screen for breast cancer. This is because it may miss some early signs of cancer. An example of early signs that may not show up on ultrasound are tiny calcium deposits called microcalcifications.

Ultrasound may be used if you:

  • Have very dense breast tissue. A mammogram may not be able to see through the tissue.

  • Are pregnant. Mammograms use radiation, but ultrasound does not. This makes it safer for the baby.

  • Need a needle biopsy. Ultrasound can be used to guide the needle to the changed tissue.

  • Have a cyst that needs to be drained.

  • Have breast implants. Ultrasound can show leaks or ruptures.

Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to advise a breast ultrasound.

What are the risks of a breast ultrasound?

Breast ultrasound may miss small lumps or solid tumors that are commonly found with mammograms.

Being overweight or having very large breasts may make the ultrasound less accurate.

Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about any concerns you have before the test.

How do I get ready for a breast ultrasound?

  • Your healthcare provider will explain the process to you. Ask any questions you have so you know what to expect.

  • You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the test. Read the form carefully and ask questions if anything isn't clear.

  • You don't need to stop eating or drinking before the test. You won't need medicine to help you relax.

  • Don't put lotion, powder, or any other substances on your breasts on the day of the test.

  • Wear clothing that you can easily take off. Or wear clothing that lets the radiologist or technologist reach your chest. The gel put on your skin during the test doesn't stain clothing, but you may want to wear older clothing. The gel may not be completely removed from your skin afterward.

  • Follow any other instructions your healthcare provider gives you to get ready.

What happens during a breast ultrasound?

You may have a breast ultrasound as an outpatient or as part of your stay in a hospital. The way the test is done may vary, but for the most part you can expect:

  1. You'll be asked to take off any jewelry and clothing from the waist up. You'll be given a gown to wear.

  2. You'll lie on your back on an exam table. You'll be asked to raise your arm above your head on the side of the breast to be looked at. You may be asked to lay on your side, too.

  3. The technologist will put a clear, warm gel on your skin over the breast area to be looked at.

  4. The technologist will press the transducer against your skin and slide it over the area being studied.

  5. Once the test is done, the technologist will wipe off the gel.

What happens after a breast ultrasound?

You don't need any special care after a breast ultrasound.

Be sure you know when and how you'll get your ultrasound results.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure

  • The reason you are having the test or procedure

  • What results to expect and what they mean

  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure

  • What the possible side effects or complications are

  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure

  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are

  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure

  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about

  • When and how will you get the results

  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems

  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2023
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