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Women's Health

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Breast Ultrasound

A breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make a picture of the tissues inside the breast. A breast ultrasound can show all areas of the breast, including the area closest to the chest wall, which is hard to study with a mammogram. Breast ultrasound does not use X-rays or other potentially harmful types of radiation.

A breast ultrasound is used to see whether a breast lump is filled with fluid (a cyst) or if it is a solid lump. An ultrasound does not replace the need for a mammogram, but it is often used to check abnormal results from a mammogram.

For a breast ultrasound, a small handheld unit called a transducercamera.gif is gently passed back and forth over the breast. A computer turns the sound waves into a picture on a TV screen. The picture is called a sonogram or ultrasound scan.

Why It Is Done

Breast ultrasound can add important information to the results of other tests, such as a mammogram or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It also may provide information that is not found with a mammogram. A breast ultrasound may be done to:

  • Find the cause of breast symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and redness.
  • Check a breast lump found on breast self-examination or physical examination. It is used to see whether a breast lump is fluid-filled (a cyst) or if it is a solid lump. A lump that has no fluid or that has fluid with floating particles may need more tests.
  • Check abnormal results from a mammogram.
  • Look at the breasts in younger women because their breast tissue is often more dense, and a mammogram may not show as much detail.
  • Guide the placement of a needle or other tube to drain a collection of fluid (cyst) or pus (abscess), take a sample of breast tissue (biopsy), or guide breast surgery.
  • Watch for changes in the size of a cyst or a noncancerous lump (fibroadenoma).
  • See how far cancer has spread in a breast.
  • Check your breasts if you have silicone breast implants or dense breasts. In these situations, a mammogram may not be able to see breast lumps.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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