If you are unsure, check it out
Ultrasound is a commonly used investigation for women who are concerned about their breasts or who have symptoms such as pain and swelling or have felt a discrete lump. Ultrasound is particularly useful for looking at the breasts of younger women because their normal breast tissue is often very dense and a mammogram (breast x-ray) may not show abnormalities as easily.
Breast ultrasound scans
Breast ultrasound can be used to:
- Check your breast implants.
- Check a breast lump found by breast self-examination.
- Explore the cause of breast symptoms such as pain, swelling, and redness.
- Monitor changes in the size of a known cyst or other benign lesion.
- Investigate some of the abnormal results from a mammogram.
The breast ultrasound scan
We recommend you wear a two-piece outfit so that it is easy to undress above the waist.
You will be asked to simply lie on your back on the ultrasound couch and raise one arm above your head according to the breast being examined. Warm water-based gel is applied to the skin of your breast and a small transducer is placed on the breast surface and moved gently back and forth over the area of interest to evaluate the area of concern.
There is usually no discomfort from pressure as the transducer is held against the area being examined. However, if scanning is performed over an area of tenderness it is a good idea to inform the specialist as this can assist them with the evaluation of the area.
We can look at all areas of concern in the breast, including the axilla (armpit) area and close to the chest wall, both areas that are hard to see with just a mammogram. Breast ultrasound does not use X-rays or other potentially harmful types of radiation.
Breast ultrasound scan results
A breast ultrasound will show whether a breast lump is filled with fluid or if it is a solid lump. A lump that contains just fluid is called a cyst and is usually nothing to worry about – if the cyst is large and painful sometimes the fluid can be drained using a small needle inserted through the skin. A lump that is solid may need more tests. Most solid breast lumps are benign (not cancer) but it is not always possible to be absolutely sure just by looking at the ultrasound images.
The meaning of an abnormal result depends on the type of problem found. We will explain everything that we see on the scan and give you a clinical report of our findings. We can send a copy of the report to your own doctor or healthcare provider and we will advise you if we think you need to have further tests.
Your GP is usually the best person to speak to following an abnormal result and can arrange any follow-up care or treatment. They can consider your breast ultrasound findings together with your other medical history and can refer you to a specialist if needed.
A breast ultrasound scan does not replace the need for a mammogram – mammography is still the most sensitive test for diagnosing breast cancer. We will advise you if we think that a breast ultrasound is not the best test for you.