Breast Ultrasound: Everything You Can Expect When You Get One Done

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1 in 8 women in the US will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. So finding a lump in your breast can be a scary moment for any woman. 

It’s something that most women actively try to avoid.

But it’s important to remember that a lump in your breast doesn’t necessarily mean you have breast cancer. If the lump is cancerous, catching it early significantly increases your chances of recovery. 

So this is where breast ultrasound comes in. 

But not knowing what to expect at your breast ultrasound only makes the experience more stressful. Wouldn’t knowing this ease your mind a little?

That’s why we’ve put together this guide on what to expect when you go in for your ultrasound. 

Read on to learn more and put yourself at ease today! 

What Is a Breast Ultrasound for? 

Breast ultrasounds are a simple procedure used to examine lumps in the breast. 

You might find a lump when performing a self-examination of your breast. If you do, your doctor will organize an ultrasound to find out what caused it to form. 

A lump in the breast can be scary because of their association with cancer. Or, they may be painful. 

But several different things can cause breast lumps. A breast ultrasound isn’t always a breast cancer ultrasound.

A breast ultrasound can tell us if these lumps pose a threat to you.

What Can Cause a Breast Lump?

So what might be causing your breast lump?

Tumorous growths in the breast are either cancerous or benign. If a tumorous lump is benign, it is not harmful to your body. 

Swelling in the glands in your breasts can also cause lumps. They might come from thickening in your breast tissue. Often, this will resolve itself naturally. 

A fibrocystic breast ultrasound might show a cyst causing the lump. A cyst is a little pocket of tissue that contains fluid. Sometimes they may require treatment but other times they go away on their own. 

Getting a breast ultrasound will let you know which of these things you’re facing.

How Does Breast Ultrasound Work? 

Many areas of medicine use ultrasound to get a picture of what is happening inside your body. 

It sends soundwaves through your body and uses the waves that bounce back to get an image of what is going on. For example, if a soundwave hits a tissue or structure in your body, it will bounce back. Doctors can see if there is anything there that shouldn’t be. 

The loudness and pitch it bounces back with tell us more about the type of tissues or structures. Recording these creates breast ultrasound images or sonograms.

And analyzing these images tells doctors what type of lump you have.

Where Do They Happen? 

Most breast ultrasounds take place at the hospital. 

Your doctor will refer you and the hospital will send you an appointment time and date. This will contain all the information about which department to go to on the day.

Appointments usually take place at the radiology unit. But, you may also go to a specialty clinic, depending on the medical facilities in your area.

What Should You Do in Preparation?

If you have a copy of your medical records, bring it with you. Your doctors will ask about any symptoms or family medical history. So if you have a chance to get that information together, it would be useful to have with you. 

You are welcome to have a chaperone with you. Nurses will be available at the hospital but you can also take a friend or relative. This is a good idea if you’re feeling nervous. 

The person who performs your ultrasound may be male. If you would prefer it to be a woman, contact the department before you go in for your appointment. 

You will need to take your top off, so wear a separate top and bottom. Button-down shirts or shirts with zippers are great choices to make changing easier.

Lotions and powders can interfere with the ultrasound images, as can metal. So avoid using anything before going in for your ultrasound, and leave any jewelry at home.

What Happens On the Day of Your Ultrasound? 

Everyone at the hospital will try to make the day of your ultrasound as smooth as possible. 

Once you are signed in you will meet your sonographer. They will perform your ultrasound.

There might also be a radiologist present who will help with the examination. They should be able to answer any questions you have on the day.

If you would like to know more about a sonographer’s training, you can read more here

Before the ultrasound begins, the sonographer will have a chat with you. They might ask if you have any other symptoms or any relevant family history. They will also carry out a physical examination of your breast.

During Your Breast Ultrasound

A breast ultrasound shouldn’t be a long or uncomfortable experience. The examination should last 15 to 30 minutes.

You will have to take your top and bra off and lie down. You may need to lie with a small triangular cushion under your shoulder. 

They might also ask you to raise your arm above your head. This helps the sonographer get the best angle for your ultrasound. 

The sonographer will apply a gel to your breast. This is sometimes cold to touch. It prevents air bubbles from getting in the way of the sound waves. 

The sonographer will move a transducer over your breast. This isn’t normally painful unless the lump is tender. Let them know if this is the case and they will be careful.

The transducer looks a bit like a wand. It sends sound waves through the breast and records any that bounce back. 

They will usually examine the whole of the breast, not just the area with the lump. So don’t worry if they do this. They are just being thorough. 

The sonographer may dim the lights to see the live breast ultrasound images better. These images will also go for analysis.

And once your examination is over you will have some tissue to wipe the gel off with. The sonographer and radiologist will give you some privacy to get dressed. 

Feel free to ask them questions whenever you need during and after the examination.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Fortunately, there are no side effects of ultrasound screening. It’s even safe to use during pregnancy! 

You Might Not Get Your Results on the Day

Depending on your doctor you may have to wait to get your results. 

We know this can be a nervous wait. Try to remember that 80% of breast lumps aren’t cancerous.

The length of wait is usually down to your doctor rather than any medical conditions. Most will try to get your results back to you on the day. But sometimes they can’t avoid delays in processing your images. 

So There You Have It!

The anticipation before a breast ultrasound is often unpleasant. But the process itself is very simple. 

Preparing for it in any way you can will help to calm your nerves and keep your focus elsewhere. Don’t forget to take someone with you if you need moral support.

And for more tips and information on women’s health, check out our blog here