Breast ultrasound is an investigative test that uses sound waves to diagnose various abnormalities in the breast. It is also known as sonography. This technology is quite effective and easily available.
It is a non-invasive technology that uses high frequency sound waves to create images of the internal structures of your body. In a breast ultrasound, this technology will be able to clearly show live images on a computer screen of breast tissue, lump, cyst, muscle layers, abscess, ducts, lobes, breast masses, lipomas, fibroadenomas, and even blood flow. The image of the blood flow is captured using Doppler ultrasound technology.
When is it Recommended
If during a physical examination of your breast your doctor notices a lump or suspicious mass, you will be asked to go for a breast ultrasound. In many cases, a MRI scan or mammogram shows a lump in the breast, but the doctor is not able to figure out whether the lump is cyst of fibroadenomas. In such cases, the doctor recommends breast ultrasound to diagnose the abnormality.
If the lump is diagnosed as a cyst, the doctor will then drain out the cyst. It might be possible that the doctor will use the ultrasound technology to guide a needle into the cyst in order to drain it. A breast ultrasound is recommended to help the doctor zero in on the exact case of pain, redness, and/or swelling in the breast. Young women who have dense breast mass are often asked to go for a breast ultrasound after their mammogram, because mammogram usually fails to show complete details of breast mass, ducts, tissue and muscle in such cases.
Women who have breast implants are also advised to go for a breast ultrasound following their mammogram. Breast implants often make it hard for the physician to take detailed images of the breast with mammogram. If this happens, then an ultrasound is recommended. Women who have a cyst in their breast are advised to have a breast ultrasound on a regular basis. This is done to see if the cyst has changed in size since the last mammogram or ultrasound. This investigative test is also used by doctors to see how far the cancer has spread in the breast.
Ultrasound technology is also used in breast biopsies. When a breast lump is not easily palpable, or when a mammogram is unable to show the lump clearly, the physician will take the help of ultrasound during a biopsy. With the help of the ultrasound technology, the doctor is able to correctly guide the needle into the lump and collect a cell sample for testing purpose.
What Happens During Breast Ultrasound
When you go to a hospital or physician’s office for a breast ultrasound, you will be first asked to remove your top and wear a hospital gown. You will then be taken to a scanning room. When you enter the scanning room, you will notice a will notice a console with a computer screen on it. This is the ultrasound machine and right next to it there will be a couch.
You will be required to lie face up on the couch. A clear gel will then be applied on the area that needs to be scanned. The gel is applied to ensure that the transducer makes total contact with the skin, so that there are no air pockets. Air pockets appear when the contact between the transducer and skin is not secure. The air pockets should not occur, because they will block the sound waves from travelling from the transducer to the body and back. If this happens, then the ultrasound will not be able to produce clear images and some areas might not even be scanned.
The radiologist will then firmly press the transducer on your skin and move it back and forth over the concerned area. As the radiologist is sweeping the transducer on your skin you will be able to see the images of your breast area on the computer screen in black and white. These images are real time images.
The test will hardly take more than 30 minutes. After completion you will be requested to put your clothes back on and then wait in the reception area. After your breast ultrasound images have been analyzed, your doctor or the radiologist will discuss them with you.
Advantages of Breast Ultrasound
Non-invasive and Painless
It is a totally non-invasive technology and is quite effective in detecting lumps, cysts, unusual masses, and fibroadenomas. It is painless; however, if your breasts are over sensitive due to a medical condition, you might feel little discomfort.
Easily Available and Harmless
This technology is widely available and is not that expensive. Women who cannot afford MRI scan or other expensive breast cancer diagnostic tests can go for a breast ultrasound. For women under thirty this is the best investigative tool available to screen their breasts for possible signs of cancer. Besides being inexpensive, the ultrasound technology is harmless, as it does use ionizing radiation, which is used in X-rays.
Real Time Images
Ultrasound is able to provide real time images of breasts. Moreover, the images of the soft tissues are absolutely clear.
Ultrasound is even able to provide clear images of dense breasts. These real time images are quite helpful during fine needle aspiration biopsy and core needle biopsy.
One of the disadvantages of breast ultrasound is that it cannot replace mammogram, especially in women above 40. Moreover, breast ultrasound is unable to screen many of the cancers. This is why, in most of the cases, ultrasound scan is followed by other diagnostic tests like, MRI, mammogram, or breast biopsy.
Ultrasound scans are also unable to detect calcifications in breasts. On the other hand, calcifications are easily seen on mammograms. The worrying part is that calcification can be a sign of breast cancer in very early stage. Therefore, it is best not to just rely on your breast ultrasound scan, especially if you notice a lump or some suspicious mass.
Another disadvantage of breast ultrasound is that it might not be covered by your health insurance. Make sure that you check with your insurance provider before you schedule an appointment for an ultrasound scan of breasts.
Overall a Helpful Tool
Overall it is quite a helpful investigative tool, especially in diagnosing various symptoms associated with breast cancer. The usefulness of this technology cannot be ignored and that is why most doctors use it in the initial stages of breast cancer diagnosis.
There is no doubt that ultrasound is able to provide very clear images; however, you need to make sure that you select a trained and experienced radiologist for your breast ultrasound. A trained and experienced radiologist will be able to produce clear pictures and explain you the results in detail. An untrained radiologist might not even be able to recognize an abnormality that might appear during the scan. Choosing the right radiologist and facility will ensure the best possible results for your breast ultrasound scan.