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Breast Ultrasound FAQs
- What is Breast Ultrasound?
- Is Ultrasound safe?
- How is the exam performed?
- Who interprets the images?
- Are breast ultrasounds reliable particularly in younger women?
- What if I have dense breasts?
- What if I have breast implants?
- Can Ultrasound detect an implant rupture?
- How long does the exam take?
- How often should I have my breasts examined by ultrasound?
What is Breast Ultrasound?
Breast ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the inside of your breasts. It can help find breast problems. It also can see how well blood is flowing to areas in your breasts. The sonographer moves a wand-like device called a transducer over your skin to make the images of your breasts. The transducer sends out sound waves that bounce off your breast tissue. The sound waves are too high-pitched for you to hear. The transducer then picks up the bounced sound waves. These are made into pictures of the inside of your breasts.
Is Ultrasound safe?
Yes, Diagnostic ultrasound is a safe procedure that uses low-power sound waves. There are no known risks.
How is the exam performed?
Before your ultrasound begins, you may be asked to remove any jewelry from the area being examined, remove your clothing from the waist up, and change into a gown. You’ll be asked to lie on an examination table. During the procedure gel is applied to your skin over the area being examined. This helps prevent air pockets, which can block the sound waves that create the images. This water-based gel is easy to remove from skin and, if needed, clothing. The sonographer presses a small, hand-held device (transducer) against your breast tissue and scans the entire breast and axilla on both the right and left side as needed to capture the images. The transducer sends sound waves into your body, collects the ones that bounce back and sends them to a computer, which creates the images.
Who interprets the images?
The results of each scanning procedure is entirely dependent on the sonographer (operator). Far from being an aim-and-snap function like taking an x-ray, the sonographer determines the images needed once the scanning procedure is underway. There is always the potential that the sonographer will need to take multiple images complete scans based on the imaging results, Though imaging equipment is getting more sophisticated all the time, the ability to make an accurate final diagnosis still relies heavily on the sonographer’s ability to distinguish between gradually changing shades of grey and black. The sonographer can identify anomalies that others would easily overlook.
The sonographer is a detective, of sorts, interpreting one image after another until satisfied the examination is thorough and if a medical issue has been identified. Interpretations of imaging studies are made at the moment the scans are taken, and that means the sonographer, working online, is making diagnostic decisions on the spot.
If a potential problem is determined to be present in your breast tissue, you will be referred to your primary care physician for further imaging (MRI) or additional diagnostic modalities.
Are breast ultrasounds reliable particularly in younger women?
Yes, Studies strongly suggest that breast ultrasound is very good at distinguishing between benign lumps and cancer in women younger than 40. So breast ultrasound may be able to help women younger than 40 avoid unnecessary biopsies.
What if I have dense breasts?
In women with dense breasts screening ultrasound provides an absolute increase in detection of node-negative breast cancer of 28% over mammograms.
What if I have breast implants?
Ultrasound offers a comfortable and pain-free breast exam without risk of ruptures caused by the 50 lbs of compression of a mammogram. Ultrasound is the exam of choice for women with breast implants or postoperative scar tissue and those women who want to avoid mammography screening due to radiation anxiety or fear.
Can Ultrasound detect an implant rupture?
Yes, studies clearly indicate that ultrasound, an inexpensive test, is both accurate and cost effective when screening women for implant rupture, and the chance of finding a ruptured implant is greater when the woman is symptomatic. If the ultrasound suggests that there is a rupture, then an MRI is indicated prior to proceeding with surgical exploration.
How long does the exam take?
Apprx 30-45 minutes.
How often should I have my breasts examined by ultrasound?
Annually. If there is a focused area of concern being monitored you may be asked to return in 3 or 6 months.