A breast ultrasound is an imaging technique that uses sound waves to evaluate lumps in the breast. It involves exposing the breast to high frequency sound waves that are converted into images on a monitor. The radiologist uses a probe that looks like a small paddle, which is pressed firmly against the skin and swept back and forth over the breast until the desired images are captured. The pattern of the echoes produces a picture called a sonogram that detects whether the breast lump is solid (possibly cancerous) or filled with fluid (cystic). The exam is performed and interpreted by a radiologist.
The ultrasound test takes about 30 to 40 minutes depending on the findings.
How does one prepare for her breast ultrasound?
Wear comfortable, two-piece clothing, bring your previous mammogram and ultrasound reports. Ideally, a breast ultrasound is done on the 7th to 10th day after the start of menstruation. You will be asked to remove your top and change into a hospital gown. You will lie on your back with your arm raised above your head on the examining table. A small amount of clear gel is applied to your breast to secure contact with the body and eliminate air pockets between the probe and the skin. The gel is water-based and will not harm your skin or stain your clothes. The radiologist will then press the probe that looks like a small paddle firmly against the skin, and sweep it back and forth over your breast until the desired images are captured. You may be asked to change positions during the exam. After the test, the gel will be wiped off your skin.
The ultrasound complements other tests. If an abnormality is seen through mammography or felt by physical exam, an 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 can determine whether a solid lump is suspicious for cancer. It can evaluate breasts of younger women, which are usually dense. It can evaluate breast symptoms such as pain, redness, and swelling. It can evaluate breast lumps in pregnant women.
The ultrasound does not give off any radiation, so there are no associated risks with the procedure. You will get the results 2 hours after the procedure. If you desire, ask your technician so they can set up a referral for you with any of their Breast Unit Consultants. They can also collaborate with your current physician regarding any concerns.
Remember, prevention is always better than cure. It is recommended also to conduct a self breast examination regularly. Have your breasts checked for an ultrasound to give you peace of mind as it detects pre-existing conditions which can be addressed soon.