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Breast ultrasound is the examination of the breast tissue using an ultrasound scan. Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to produce images (or pictures) of the breast that are displayed on a screen.
If you or your doctor can feel a lump in the breast, ultrasound can help to distinguish fluid-filled lumps (cysts) from solid lumps that may be cancerous or benign (non-cancerous).
In younger patients who have breast symptoms (e.g. pain, lumps), ultrasound is often the first investigation. The breast tissue of younger women is much denser than it is in older women, and this can make it harder to detect an abnormality using an X-ray (mammogram).
Ultrasound is also used to diagnose problems such as complications from mastitis (an infection that occurs most often during breast-feeding), assessing abnormal nipple discharge or problems with breast implants.
No preparation is necessary for this examination.
It is advisable to wear a two-piece outfit, so that only your top has to be removed to provide access to the breast area.
There are no after effects of a breast ultrasound.
The examination takes between 15–30 minutes.
Sometimes you will be asked to wait and have the images checked by a radiologist (specialist doctor). Sometimes it will be necessary for the radiologist to attend the examination, because it may be important to see the images on the screen rather than as still photographs. The radiologist may also want to examine your breast if you have a symptom (like a lump or skin changes) and might also ask you some questions about these symptoms. This extra information may help the radiologist to better understand your ultrasound images, so they can give an accurate diagnosis.
There are no risks from ultrasound. Even if you are pregnant, you are able to safely have an ultrasound examination.
Ultrasound examination allows the detection and identification of most breast lumps. It is especially useful in distinguishing between solid and fluid-filled lumps.
If the ultrasound does not identify a lump that you or your doctor can feel, then other tests, such as mammography or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be required to examine the breast.
The examination is carried out by a health professional specially trained and accredited to do the test, such as a sonographer, sonologist, radiologist (specialist doctor) or a breast physician.
They may be male or female. If you are not comfortable with a male, you should let the reception staff at the radiology facility know this before having the test. In cases where the patient is young, a female chaperone may be requested (usually a nurse at the radiology facility). A parent, other relative, friend or partner can stay with you during the examination if you are more comfortable with this.
The examination is carried out in a radiology department of a hospital, private radiology practice or at a specialist breast clinic. The examination is done in the privacy of an ultrasound room, which may be dimly lit to allow the images on the ultrasound screen to be clearly seen by the person carrying out the scanning.
A full report of the scan will be written by the radiologist and sent to your referring doctor. The time that it takes your doctor to receive a written report on the test or procedure you have had will vary, depending on:
The radiology facility where you are having the test can advise you when the written report will be provided to your doctor.
It is important that you discuss the results with the doctor who referred you, either in person or on the telephone, so that they can explain what the results mean for you.
Cancer Australia – Breast Cancer
Page last modified on 31/8/2018.
RANZCR® is not aware that any person intends to act or rely upon the opinions, advices or information contained in this publication or of the manner in which it might be possible to do so. It issues no invitation to any person to act or rely upon such opinions, advices or information or any of them and it accepts no responsibility for any of them.
RANZCR® intends by this statement to exclude liability for any such opinions, advices or information. The content of this publication is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. It is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient and his/her doctor. Some of the tests and procedures included in this publication may not be available at all radiology providers.
RANZCR® recommends that any specific questions regarding any procedure be discussed with a person's family doctor or medical specialist. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, RANZCR®, its Board, officers and employees assume no responsibility for its content, use, or interpretation. Each person should rely on their own inquires before making decisions that touch their own interests.