Breast ultrasound (or sonography) is an imaging technique for screening breast disease, such as cancer. It uses harmless, high frequency sound waves to form an image (sonogram). The sound waves pass through the breast and bounce back or echo from various tissues to form a picture of the internal structures. It is not invasive and involves no radiation.
Breast ultrasound may be used in several ways. The most common application is to investigate a specific area of the breast where a problem is suspected. A palpable lump and/or a lump or density discovered by x-ray imaging (mammogram) can be further evaluated by ultrasound. It is especially helpful in distinguishing between a fluid-filled cyst and a solid mass. It also can identify small lesions that are too tiny to be felt.
Breast ultrasound is often the first study performed to evaluate masses in women under 35 whose mammograms can be difficult to interpret due to the density of their breast tissue. The lack of radiation used with ultrasound makes it ideal for studying breast abnormalities in women who are pregnant. Assessing breast implants for leakage or rupture is another use for ultrasound. Breast inflammation, where pockets of infection or abscesses may form, can be diagnosed and monitored by ultrasound.
Thickened and swollen breast skin may be a sign of inflammatory breast cancer. Ultrasound can sometimes identify a cancerous growth within the breast causing the thickened skin. These cases are usually followed by a core biopsy guided by ultrasound.
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