Ultrasound sends harmless high-frequency sound waves through your breast and converts them into images on a screen. Ultrasound is not a stand-alone screening test for breast cancer but is used as a complementary tool. If an abnormality is seen on mammography, or felt by clinical examination, ultrasound is the best way to find out if the abnormality is solid (such as a benign fibroadenoma, or breast cancer) or fluid-filled (such as a benign cyst).
Ultrasound can also be used to take a targeted biopsy from any solid lump within your breast. It cannot determine whether a solid lump is cancerous, nor can it detect calcifications (small flecks of calcium on mammography which can be associated with breast cancer). If any of your screening tests show an abnormality it is likely that a breast ultrasound will be recommended to you.
If your screening investigations show a solid lump in your breast then a targeted biopsy will be recommended to you. Ultrasound is used to guide the needle in to the lump so that a tissue sample can be obtained for analysis. Ultrasound-guided breast biopsies are far more likely to provide the correct diagnosis that those carried out by palpation only. The biopsy will be performed after injection of local anaesthesia and will take up to fifteen minutes to perform. The biopsy will be sent to the pathology laboratory for analysis and the result should be ready within five working days.
If your screening investigations show a fluid-filled cyst (benign) an ultrasound-guided breast cyst aspiration will be used to drain fluid from cysts in the breast. A radiologist does this procedure. The procedure only takes a few minutes.
For further information, please view our Breast Ultrasound FAQ page.