Breast ultrasound

A breast ultrasound scan is a test that uses high frequency sound waves to create a picture of the inside of the breast. 

When you might have it

You might have a breast ultrasound:

  • as a first test if you have a lump in the breast
  • if you have a lump in your breast that hasn't shown up on a breast x-ray (mammogram)
  • to see if a breast lump is solid or if contains fluid (a cyst)

You might have this test alongside other tests, such as a breast examination and breast x-ray (mammogram) in a one stop clinic. You might also have a breast biopsy. This is called a triple assessment.

You may also have an ultrasound scan when you have a biopsy of the breast. This helps the doctor find the right place to take the biopsy.

Preparing for your breast ultrasound

There isn’t usually any special preparation for a breast ultrasound.

Take any medicines as normal.

How you have it

The ultrasound scanner has a microphone that gives off sound waves. The sound waves bounce off the organs inside your body, and the microphone picks them up.

The microphone links to a computer that turns the sound waves into a picture on the screen. A sonographer will do your ultrasound. A sonographer is a trained professional who is a specialist in ultrasound scanning.

Photograph of someone having a breast ultrasound

What happens

You will need to take off your upper clothing, including your bra, and put on a hospital gown. You lie on a couch for the test.

The sonographer puts a lubricating gel over your breast, this can sometimes feel cold. The gel helps the probe to slide over your skin to give clear pictures on the screen. You might feel a little pressure when the sonographer moves the probe over your breast. Do tell them if it is uncomfortable. The sonographer will also look at the lymph nodes in your armpit (axilla).

It can take about 10 to 15 minutes. The sonographer might ask you to move position a few times, bringing your arm up and down.

You can have a family member or a friend with you while you have the scan. Just let the sonographer know that someone will be with you.

After your breast ultrasound

You can get dressed straight after the ultrasound. A specialist looks at the ultrasound pictures. 

You might not need any further tests if everything looks normal. If the test shows a fluid-filled lump, a doctor or nurse might drain the fluid with a needle.

If a solid lump shows on the scan you might need to have more tests. These might include a breast x-ray (mammogram) or taking a sample of cells from the abnormal area (a biopsy). If the lymph nodes in your armpit look abnormal, you might have a needle biopsy in this area.

In a one-stop clinic you have these tests during the same visit.

Your doctor may suggest you have other tests or scans, for example an MRI. These are usually booked for another day.

Getting your results

You might get the results on the same day.

If you had a breast biopsy you might need to wait for a week or so. Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can contact them for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 for information and support. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the staff at the clinic if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Possible risks

Breast ultrasound is a very safe procedure, but your nurse will tell you who to contact if you have any problems after your test.

There are usually no side effects.

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