When and Why We Use Ultrasound
Breast imaging requires detection and characterization of breast abnormalities. Diagnostic Breast Ultrasound is primarily used to characterize abnormalities that have already been detected by mammography and palpable abnormalities. It is also used to evaluate nipple discharge, to evaluate breast implant integrity, and to evaluate symptomatic patients who are younger than 30 years of age, pregnant or breast feeding. Breast ultrasound is not generally used as a screening tool. It is used in conjunction with mammography and thorough physical exam. The use of breast ultrasound in appropriately selected patients can increase the certainty of a benign (non-cancerous) diagnosis, or it can increase the suspicion of a malignant (cancerous) lesion. Consequently, breast ultrasound may lead to biopsy in some patients, but should prevent unnecessary biopsy in most.
Breast ultrasound is very effective in identifying breast cysts. Breast cysts are harmless, liquid-filled sacs in the breast tissue. Cysts tend to come and go, usually related to hormonal cycles. Breast ultrasound is a painless procedure, which usually takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Ultrasound does not utilize radiation. An ultrasound technologist will apply a clear gel to the breast. This gel allows the sound waves to travel through the skin, and down to the tissues that are the target of the study. The resulting sound-wave pattern is displayed on a monitor for the radiologist to interpret. Lesions that are identified by ultrasound are best biopsied utilizing ultrasound guidance. See the breast biopsy section for further information.