Breast Ultrasounds and Early Breast Cancer Detection

What is a Breast Ultrasound procedure?

As the term implies, a breast ultrasound test makes use of high-frequency sound waves to map an image of the breast. It is used to examine, diagnose and treat conditions of the breasts. Ultrasound is different from a mammogram, which uses x-ray. An ultrasound test may be done following a mammogram to investigate its results.

How a Breast Ultrasound Works

First a device known as a transducer is moved over the area to be scanned. The transducer emits sound waves which are then converted into an image by a computer. This image is called an ultrasound scan or sonogram, and can be viewed in a monitor.

Uses of a Breast Ultrasound

A doctor may request for an ultrasound for different reasons:

– To see what may be causing swelling, redness or other discomfort

– To determine the nature of a breast tumor or lump found during examination by either the patient or doctor

– To help with breast surgery, biopsy or draining of fluid

– To investigate the findings in a mammogram

– To monitor the growth of a breast tumor

– To examine the breasts of women with dense breast mass (usually young women)

Advantages of Breast Ultrasound

Ultrasound tests are ideal for certain cases. Although the mammogram is still the best type of examination tool, there are situations when a mammogram is not very effective or perhaps dangerous. Some cases in which an ultrasound may be preferred instead of a mammogram are:

– When the woman has dense breasts (too dense to be examined in a mammogram)

– When the woman is pregnant

– When the patient must not be exposed to x-rays

– When the patient has had breast implants

Another benefit of ultrasound tests is that they are non-invasive, painless and free of side effects. You can have an ultrasound as often as needed. Results are instant, so it can be used to guide surgery. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, it is a good idea to have an ultrasound regularly for early detection.

What to Do Expect in a Breast Ultrasound Exam

Wear clothes that are easy to undress at the top.

Remove the upper garment for the exam.

Remove all jewelry around the neck and breast area.

A special gel will be applied on the skin. This facilitates scanning.

The result may be ready in 15-30 minutes.

A radiologist will interpret the ultrasound scan.

Limitations of Breast Ultrasound

As good as ultrasound may seem, it is not 100% effective in all cases. Ultrasound is not a substitute for a mammogram or a physical examination by a qualified doctor. This is because some anomalies can only be seen through a mammography. Also sometimes an ultrasound test may be unable to determine if a tumor is malignant, in which case biopsy (taking a sample of the tissue) would be necessary.

Before you have an ultrasound test, make sure the hospital is duly equipped and meets the standard qualifications for it. You can check the ACR database for certified facilities. You might also want to verify if the test is covered by your insurance.