Breast ultrasound scan
This information is about having an ultrasound scan of the breast. An ultrasound scan uses high frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the inside of the breast.
We hold a small device called an ultrasound probe and press it against the surface of your skin. This device makes sound waves and detects sound echoes. Both of these are used to display pictures of breast tissue on a monitor.
A specialist doctor called a radiologist or specially trained health professional caller a sonographer does your ultrasound scan in our breast imaging unit. They also interpret the results of your test.
The aim of this information is to help answer some of your questions about having a breast ultrasound scan. It explains:
- the benefits of the procedure
- the risks of the procedure
- what you can expect when you come to hospital
- what happens after the procedure
If you have any more questions or concerns, please speak to a radiologist or sonographer in the breast imaging unit or a breast care nurse.
Benefits of a breast ultrasound scan
An ultrasound scan can detect changes in your breasts. You may be aware of some of these changes, such as a breast lump. The scan can show:
- if a breast lump is solid (made of cells) or filled with fluid (a cyst)
- if a solid lump is regular or irregular in shape
The ultrasound scan may also show changes that we cannot feel when examining you. This includes any areas of unusual tissue deep within your breast that we may need to investigate in more detail.
Risks of a breast ultrasound scan
There are no known risks to having a breast ultrasound scan. Ultrasound does not involve using X-rays and is thought to be very safe.
Other options to a breast ultrasound scan
There are no other methods for taking pictures of the breast in a similar way to a breast ultrasound scan.
Another possible option is for a breast specialist to examine you and take a sample of breast tissue for testing. This is called a biopsy.
Preparing for a breast ultrasound scan
There are no special preparations for having a breast ultrasound scan. You can eat and drink as usual before and after the procedure. But some things can make your breast ultrasound appointment easier.
- Contact the breast imaging unit in advance if you need a hoist (piece of medical equipment to help lift or move you safely), transport or a translator.
- Wear clothes that you can remove easily. This is because we ask you to undress from the waist upwards.
- Try to bring a family member or friend with you to your appointment. This may also be useful if you do not understand English well or have any special needs. Your family member or friend can support you and accompany you home.
- Bring an adult to supervise your children if they need to come with you to your appointment. We do not have childcare facilities.
- If you wish, tell staff the pronouns (such as he or him, she or her, or they or them) that we should use to address you.
- Do not wear spray deodorant (roll-on deodorant is OK), powder, lotion or perfume on your breasts and underarm areas on the day of your appointment. These products may affect the accuracy of the pictures. During the test, we put ultrasound gel on your breast and underarm areas.
Preparing for a breast ultrasound if you are trans or non-binary
If you have any questions or concerns about coming for a breast ultrasound scan, you can:
- speak to staff in our breast imaging unit or a breast care nurse about what to expect at your appointment
- call the Switchboard LGBT helpline on 0300 330 0630 (every day, 10am to 10pm)
You may want to bring someone with you to your appointment for support.
It is important that you feel treated with respect and dignity at all times. When booking your appointment, please tell us if you would prefer to be seen at the beginning or end of a clinic.
We may ask you to sit in a waiting area when you arrive for your appointment. Please tell our staff if you do not feel comfortable waiting with other people.
Before your breast ultrasound scan, you get undressed from the waist upwards behind a curtain in the ultrasound room. We give you paper to cover your top half and then move this to uncover the breast during the scan.
If you wear a binder (a piece of clothing to flatten breast tissue), you will need to remove this before the scan.
Giving your permission (consent)
We want to involve you in decisions about your care and treatment. If you decide to have a breast ultrasound scan, we will ask you to sign a consent form. This says that you agree to have the test and understand what it involves.
If you would like more information about our consent process, please speak to a member of staff caring for you.
Having the procedure
The procedure should last no longer than 15 minutes. However, please allow extra time in case of delays on the day of your appointment.
What happens during the procedure
- The radiologist or sonographer first talks to you about your breast problems.
- You remove all of your clothes from the waist upwards behind a curtain in the ultrasound room. We give you paper to cover your top half and move this to uncover the breast during the scan.
- We ask you to lie on a couch. You put your arm on the affected side above your head on a pillow.
- The radiologist or sonographer may examine your breast to check the position of any lumps.
- The radiologist or sonographer puts a water-based, clear gel on the skin of your breast. This allows a small device called an ultrasound probe to slide easily over the skin and helps to produce clear pictures.
- The radiologist or sonographer slowly moves the probe over your skin while looking at the pictures produced on the monitor. We dim the lights in the room to see the pictures on the screen more clearly.
- We make records of selected pictures, so that they can be viewed later.
- After the test, we wipe off the gel and you can get dressed.
How the procedure feels
If your breasts are generally tender, you may find it a bit uncomfortable when the probe device passes over them. For most people, however, a breast ultrasound is a painless procedure.
You can return to your usual activities, including work and sports, immediately.
After a breast ultrasound, you should not have any side effects that cause concern. However, please contact us if you need any advice.
Getting your breast ultrasound results
The radiologist or sonographer reviews the breast ultrasound pictures. They send a report explaining the results to the doctor who referred you for this test.
You may have come for your ultrasound scan as part of an appointment at the breast unit one stop clinic. If so, we may ask you to return here after all your tests have been done. The breast consultant can then tell you when you should expect to get your results.
Otherwise, you get your results in the post and we send a copy to your GP. This usually takes about 2 weeks.
If you have come for an outpatient appointment, your consultant will give you the results at your next appointment. Please make sure that an appointment is arranged for you to get your results and talk about them with your consultant.