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Ultrasound of Breasts

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Breast ultrasound is a non- invasive technique used to examine the breasts. The device uses sound waves to produce clear images of the breast muscles, cells and issues. It’s often a follow up technique after finding abnormal reports of breast MRI or a mammogram test.

Why ultrasound of breasts is done?

The test is done to diagnose abnormalities present in the breasts. Different conditions under which it is advised are:

  • To detect the underlying cause of breast pain, redness, swelling, etc.
  • To find out presence or absence of fluid inside a breast lump
  • To differentiate between a solid and fluid filled cyst
  • Performed on women carrying high risk of breast cancer and are not suitable for MRI
  • During pregnancy when exposure to x-ray is not advised
  • To measure the spread of a cancer
  • The ultrasound images are used as a guide for breast biopsy or breast surgery

How to prepare for the test?

  • Your doctor will first conduct a physical exam and then analyse the reports of a previously conducted mammogram (if performed)
  • Clarify your concerns with your doctor before undergoing the test
  • It’s a painless test, so no worries. Your will need to change your dress with the two- piece gown offered by the nurse

How’s the breast ultrasound conducted?

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First a water based gel is applied on the breasts to allow the ultrasound device or the probe slide smoothly over the skin. The gel also eliminates trapped air between the skin and the probe.

The device that emits high frequency inaudible ultrasound waves into the body is called the transducer. It will be placed manually on different locations and at different angles on the breasts, with varying pressure.

The sound waves that echo and reflect from the contour tissue, cells, organs, tumours, etc. inside the breasts are immediately picked up by the transducer; which are then translated into real-time electronic images instantly on the video display monitor.

Breast ultrasound takes 15-30 minutes.

What to expect?

  • The gel will feel cold
  • Pressure is felt on the breasts. You might experience pain only if your breasts are tender or has an internal infection
  • You may have to change positions of your body as directed by the doctor
  • Additionally, a Doppler probe might be used to evaluate the direction and speed of the blood cells inside the breasts. You can hear the sound of your internal organs during this test.

Interpretation of Results

The images are scrutinized by the radiologist and the test results are interpreted accordingly. He may also consult with other doctors before coming to a final conclusion. You may need to undergo follow-up examinations like a biopsy (ultrasound or stereotactic) if any major abnormality is suspected.

Limitations of Breast Ultrasound

  • An open wound on breasts interferes with the procedure
  • It’s not a replacement for mammography or clinical breast exam
  • Calcifications, tiny tumours and sometimes cancer may not get detected

All in all we say that doctors are not solely dependent upon breast ultrasound reports as the final conclusion of an underlying breast disorder. The reports of other tests are combined and compared before disclosing anything to the patient.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 11, 2015