Breast ultrasound imaging is a safe and painless procedure that produces pictures of the inside of the breast using sound waves. During the breast ultrasound scan a small hand-held transducer (probe) is placed directly on the breast, transmitting high-frequency sound waves into the breast tissue. The transducer then collects the sounds that bounce back and a computer converts the sound waves into an image on a video display screen. Ultrasound examinations do not use ionising radiation (as used in x-rays), so there is no exposure to radiation.
During a physical exam, mammography or during Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), a physician may notice abnormalities, such as a lump, in the breast. A breast ultrasound can then be used to diagnose these abnormalities.
How is the procedure performed?
The breast ultrasound will be performed by a radiologist (a physician specifically trained to supervise and interpret radiology examinations). You will first be instructed to lie on your back on an examination table. You may also be asked to raise your arm above your head. A warm water-based gel will then be applied to the breast to ensure the transducer connects securely to the skin and there are no air pockets that could potentially block the sound waves. The transducer will then be placed on the body and moved back and forth over the breast.
It is likely you will feel the pressure of the transducer as it is pressed against the breast but this shouldn’t cause any discomfort. In cases where the scan is carried out over an area of tenderness you may feel some minor pain.
A breast ultrasound is usually completed within 30 minutes. Once complete, the clear ultrasound gel will be wiped off your skin. Any portions that are not wiped off will dry quickly. The ultrasound gel does not usually stain or discolour clothing.
There are no risks associated with a breast ultrasound.
Before the breast ultrasound scan you will be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a gown.
As with a mammogram, once the ultrasound is complete, a report will be validated and be made available to the consultant.
If the patient needs intervention (Biopsy or FNA) the specimen is sent to the pathology laboratory. Results will be sent to the consultant, the patient will have a follow up appointment to discuss the result.