What to Expect From a Breast Ultrasound Exam

Doctor examining patient in office
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A breast ultrasound exam is usually done after a mammogram or clinical exam reveals an area of concern that doesn’t show up distinctly. Very little pressure is used, and the exam is usually painless. Since ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves instead of x-rays, your breast is not exposed to radiation. Ultrasound can be used for clear imaging of dense breast tissue, and is safe for women who are pregnant or who have breast implants. The exam may take 10 to 30 minutes to complete.

Medical Records to Bring Along

Bring a list of the most recent mammograms that you’ve had done. If you’ve had breast surgery, write down the types of surgery, treatments, or biopsies you've had and when you had them. You may need these to complete any paperwork before the appointment. Bring your medical insurance card with you, too.

Dress for Comfort

Dress as you would for a mammogram, in a loose two-piece outfit with an easy-to-remove top. You may want to leave necklaces or valuables at home.

At the Clinic

You will be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up. You will then put on a gown that is open in the front.

The ultrasound equipment looks like a computer workstation, with an eye-level monitor, a keyboard and trackball, a computer, and wands of various shapes (transducers) that are suited to different kinds of ultrasound exams. The room will be dimly lit so that the ultrasound operator can clearly see images of your breast on the monitor.

Preparing for the Ultrasound

You will lie on your back on an exam table. You may need a pillow under your head and shoulders, or a wedge pillow under your back, to get yourself into the proper position for the exam. You may be asked to raise either arm above your head, as you would during a clinical breast exam. Clear gel will be put on your skin near the area that will be imaged. The gel will help the transducer glide smoothly and make good contact with your skin.

The Exam

The operator will place the transducer over the area to be examined. While pressing firmly, she will slide the transducer back and forth and watch the images created on the monitor. When the exact area that needs to be looked at is located, the finding can be imaged, measured, and shown to the radiologist. The gel will be wiped off and you will have time to dress. You may be asked to wait while the radiologist looks at your ultrasound, just in case they want to do another image of an area they couldn't see clearly the first time.

Getting Your Results

You can ask to see the image, but don’t ask the operator for a diagnosis. Either your radiologist will talk to you about it, or your doctor will contact you to discuss it. You can ask your doctor for a copy of the ultrasound report for your medical records.

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