Breast ultrasound is a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to create pictures of the internal structures of your breasts. It is often used to evaluate a lump or other abnormality. The sound waves travel through your body and bounce off the tissues in your breasts, returning to a point near the transducer where they are picked up again. This information is used to make a computerized image of your breast tissue. A gel is applied to your breasts so the wand-like device can glide easily over your breasts. The sound waves do not cause any pain and there is no ionizing radiation.
A radiologist or ultrasound technologist will examine each of your breasts, one at a time. You may be asked to lie on your back or your side, depending on the area being studied. A clear gel will be placed on your breast, and a handheld or automated device (transducer) is moved over the breast. The transducer is swept in circular motions across the surface of your breasts and the resulting images are displayed on a computer screen.
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Ultrasound is the most common method of evaluating breast masses in women over age 50. It is able to detect many of the same types of lesions as mammography but has some advantages, such as being able to detect microcalcifications that may be precursors to cancer and that can be missed by mammography.
It can also be used to determine the need for a biopsy of a mass. Ultrasound can detect the presence of cysts and adipose (fatty) tissue and evaluate the texture of a mass by determining whether it is soft or firm (echoic). The stiffness of a mass can also be useful in assessing its need for biopsy; in general, soft masses are more likely to be benign than stiff masses.