Breast ultrasound—or ultrasonography of the breast—is the use of ultrasonic waves (sound waves that cannot be heard by humans) to produce an image of breast tissue. Breast ultrasonography may be used with mammography or by itself.
Ultrasonography may be used to detect and classify breast lesions in the following types of women:
Normally, the breast tissue will appear uniform and without masses. Distinctive patterns (abnormal results) may indicate:
Mammography is an excellent way to detect breast abnormalities, but in many cases it is not possible to tell from the imaging studies alone whether a growth is benign or cancerous. To make this determination, it is necessary to obtain a tissue sample for microscopic examination. As an alternative to open surgical biopsy, which removes a larger specimen for microscopic analysis, a hollow needle may be passed through the skin into the suspicious lesion with the help of special breast x-rays. The sample of breast tissue obtained in this way can show whether the lesion is malignant or benign, and the procedure is much less invasive than the surgical approach.
A core biopsy procedure may be performed by using ultrasound guidance or mammography. A special computerized mammography machine uses intersecting coordinates to pinpoint the area of tissue change. This method is called stereotactic biopsy, or x-ray-guided biopsy. A pathologist examines the removed specimen and makes a final diagnosis so that treatment planning can begin.
A stereotactic breast biopsy is most helpful when mammography shows a mass, a cluster of microcalcifications (tiny calcium deposits that are closely grouped together), or an area of abnormal tissue change but no lump can be felt on careful breast examination.
An x-ray-guided biopsy often is done when:
An ultrasound-guided biopsy often is done when: