What Is a Breast Sonogram?

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  • Written By: Nicole Etolen
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 21 June 2019
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A breast sonogram, also called an ultrasound, is a medical imaging procedure that uses sound waves to look at the tissue inside the breast. Breast sonograms are often used for additional diagnosis and evaluation after a lump has been found on a mammogram. The sound waves produce an image of all the areas inside the breast, including those closest to the chest wall, which are difficult to see with a mammogram.

The procedure is performed by a trained technologist, typically in a darkened room. Prior to starting the breast sonogram, the technologist applies a special conducive gel to the breasts. This gel assists in the transmission of sound waves. The sonogram machine captures the sound waves and translates them into an image on a computer screen. The technologist analyzes the data and reports it to the treating physician, who determines if the results are normal or abnormal.

The procedure is typically not painful, although the gel can be uncomfortably cold. In some cases, the technologist will warm the gel before applying it to the breasts. The entire breast sonogram usually lasts between 15 and 30 minutes, although patients may be asked to wait while the technologist evaluates the date, in case more images are needed.


Aside from confirming a finding on a mammogram, a breast sonogram may be performed to diagnose the cause of painful or swollen breasts. If a problem is found, additional sonograms can monitor the abnormality to watch for signs of growth or other changes. For those with cancer, a breast sonogram can help monitor the disease and determine how far it has spread.

The breast tissue in younger women is typically denser than that in older women, and a breast sonogram may be more accurate than a mammogram in detecting lumps deeper in such dense tissue. Some research indicates that women with dense breast tissue may be at a higher risk for cancer. Researchers are still trying to determine whether this is because of the tissue density itself or because the abnormalities are more difficult to see on a mammogram.

Breast sonograms can also be used to help guide surgeons during breast biopsies or draining of a fluid-filled cyst. During these procedures, surgeons use a needle, a vacuum-assisted device, or a thin wire to locate and take samples of the abnormal breast tissue or the fluid inside of a cyst. Samples are sent to laboratories for further diagnostic testing. A biopsy can rule out cancer or other problems with the breast tissue.



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