Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or sonography, involves exposing part of the body to high-frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the body. Ultrasound exams do not use ionizing radiation (as used in x-rays). Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, as well as blood flowing through blood vessels.
- Ultrasound imaging is a noninvasive medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions.
- Ultrasound imaging of the breast produces a picture of the internal structures of the breast.
During a breast ultrasound examination the sonographer may use Doppler techniques to evaluate blood flow or lack of flow in any breast mass. In some cases this may provide additional information as to the cause of the mass.
What are some common uses of the procedure?
The primary use of breast ultrasound today is to help diagnose breast abnormalities detected by a physician during a physical exam (such as a lump or bloody or spontaneous clear nipple discharge) and to characterize potential abnormalities seen on mammography.
Ultrasound imaging can help to determine if an abnormality is solid (which may be a non-cancerous lump of tissue or a cancerous tumor) or fluid-filled (such as a benign cyst) or both cystic and solid. Ultrasound can also help show additional features of the abnormal area. Doppler ultrasound is used to assess blood supply in breast lesions.
Mammography is the only screening tool for breast cancer that is known to reduce deaths due to breast cancer through early detection. Even so, mammograms do not detect all breast cancers. Some breast lesions and abnormalities are not visible or are difficult to interpret on mammograms. In breasts that are dense, meaning there is a lot of glandular tissue and less fat, many cancers can be hard to see on mammography. Many studies have shown that ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (Breast MRI) can help supplement mammography by detecting small breast cancers that may not be visible with mammography.
Who interprets the results and how do I get them?
A radiologist trained to interpret radiology examinations, will analyze the images and send a signed report to your primary care physician or the physician who referred you for the exam, who will share the results with you. In some cases the radiologist may discuss results with you at the conclusion of your examination.
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