Breast Ultrasound

Alternative names
Ultrasonography of the breast

Breast ultrasound is the use of ultrasonic sound waves (sounds that cannot be heard by humans) to produce an image of breast tissue.

How the test is performed

You will be asked to undress from the waist up and put on a medical garment (johnny top) suitable for use during the test. Your health care provider will explain the procedure. During the test, you will lie on your back on the examining table.

A water-soluble gel is placed on the transducer (a hand-held device that directs the high-frequency sound waves to the breast tissue) and on the breast.

The transducer is then moved over the surface of the breast to create a picture. The test is then repeated for the other breast, if necessary.

How to prepare for the test
Since you need to remove your clothing from the waist up, it may be helpful to wear a two-piece outfit. On the day of the test, do not use any lotions or powders on your breasts.

How the test will feel

The number of people involved in the test will be limited to protect your privacy.

You will be asked to raise your arms above your head and turn to the left or right as needed.

There is no discomfort from the ultrasound device.

Why the test is performed

Breast ultrasonography may be used to supplement mammography or as an independent examination.

Ultrasonography may be used in the following types of women to detect and classify breast lesions:

  • Women with dense breasts  
  • Women with fibrocystic breast disease  
  • Women with a lesion that cannot be well classified with mammography alone  
  • Young women with masses  
  • Pregnant women with masses  
  • Women with silicon breast implants  
  • Women who refuse exposure to X-rays (mammography)  
  • Women who should not be exposed to X-rays

If a cystic lesion is identified, ultrasound can be used to guide needle drainage or biopsy.

Normal Values
Normally, the breast tissue will appear uniform and without masses.

What abnormal results mean
Distinctive patterns may indicate:

  • Cysts  
  • Benign lesions  
  • Malignant lesions (breast cancer)

What the risks are
There are no risks associated with breast ultrasonography.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 7, 2012
by Mamikon Bozoyan, M.D.

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