Ultrasound is an imaging test which uses sound waves. These sound waves cannot be heard by the human ear. They travel through your breast and are converted into images which can be viewed on a screen. To perform the test, the doctor will place a small sound-emitting probe on your breast. This is painless and there is no radiation involved.
For ultrasound of your breast you do not require to undertake any preparation.
When is Breast ultrasound used?
- If your mammogram shows an abnormality.
Ultrasound is a useful additional test in these circumstances. It can help determine if a mass seen on mammogram is full of fluid (a cyst) or solid. If a needle biopsy is required it can also help the doctor to accurately perform the biopsy.
- If your mammogram shows that your breast tissue is dense.
Breasts are made up of a mixture of fat (which is largely transparent on mammogram) and glandular tissue (which appears white on mammogram). Some woman have a lot of glandular tissue. This makes the mammogram less accurate as abnormalities in the breast can also appear white. This is why some doctors say that locating an abnormality in women who have dense glandular tissue can be like finding a polar bear in a snowstorm.
Ultrasound is much less affected by the density of the breast tissue. It is therefore often recommended that woman who have dense glandular tissue screen for breast cancer with both mammogram and ultrasound.
The density of your breast tissue will be documented on your mammogram report together with a recommendation for ultrasound if required.
- If you are under 35.
In the majority of woman, regular screening for breast cancer with mammography is not recommended to commence until at least the age of 40. This is because the chance of breast cancer occurring in this age group in the general population is low.
The majority of woman in the under 35 age group who present with a breast symptom do not have breast cancer. These woman are often imaged with ultrasound in the first instance. A mammogram may subsequently be recommended by the doctor if they feel it is necessary.