Role of Ultrasound

Understanding The Role of Ultrasound In Evaluation of Breast Lumps

Ultrasonography, commonly referred to as ultrasound, is a harmless test that uses high-frequency sound waves sent from a transducer, a microphone-like instrument. As the transducer moves over the breast tissue, the sound waves are bounced back to a sensor within the instrument and a picture on a monitor shows the internal structures of the breasts. These pictures, unlike a mammogram, use no radiation and allow the physician to observe the breast structures in motion.

This test does not require any surgery or needles. You do not need to do any advance preparation and the test is painless.

Ultrasounds are usually used when an abnormality has been found in a breast during a mammography exam. The test determines if the suspicious area is solid tissue, or a cyst filled with fluid. Ultrasound accurately locates and correctly distinguishes the makeup of a lump more than 95 percent of the time. Breast cysts are easily identified by ultrasound. This often prevents unnecessary surgery for abnormal cystic lumps that cannot be felt. It is also a very useful diagnostic tool for lumps found in pregnant women for whom mammography is not advised, and for women with very dense breasts.

Guidance using ultrasound visualization of the lump can aid the physician to locate accurately the area for withdrawal of fluid from a cyst or to perform a needle biopsy of the lump. Being able to see the lump and the placement of the needle inside of it while withdrawing fluid or performing a biopsy increases the accuracy of the procedure. Ultrasound visualization also allows the physician to monitor the area immediately following the procedure to observe any changes.

There is no preparation for ultrasound: and there is no discomfort associated with the test unless you cannot lie flat without discomfort. You will need to lie on a table undressed from the waist up for the test. The sonographer will apply a gel or oil substance to the breast to improve the transmission of the sound waves. The transducer will be moved over the breast while photographic images are displayed on a video monitor. A radiologist who specializes in reading ultrasound images (sonograms) will interpret the films. The results of your ultrasound will be sent to the referring physician.

Ultrasound is not recommended by the American College of Radiology as the best method of detecting cancer by screening, but rather as an add-on procedure after mammography has located an area that needs further evaluation. It is best used to clarify results of a mammogram or when mammography is not suitable because of pregnancy or other reasons.

Source: Judy C. Kneece, RN, OCN, EduCare Inc.