What is a breast ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create images of your breast tissue. This test is sometimes used as a screening, along with a mammogram, to help get a closer look at a spot seen on a mammogram or to check a breast lump.

Types of breast ultrasounds:

Handheld ultrasound

A handheld breast ultrasound uses a small wand called a transducer to look at a specific breast area. This type of ultrasound is often performed as a follow-up to a mammogram or when you have breast symptoms, such as a lump, nipple changes or localized breast pain. 

Automated whole breast screening ultrasound (ABUS)

ABUS is a type of breast ultrasound that provides images of the entire breast using three sweeps from a large transducer. It may be used as part of your annual screening if you have dense breast tissue or have breast symptoms that affect the whole breast.


When is an ultrasound for the breast needed?

An ultrasound of the breast is sometimes needed to check on a spot or lump in the breast that you can feel or that your provider sees on a mammogram. In some instances, it’s also used as an additional screening tool for breast cancer.

  • Determining the nature of a breast abnormality

    If you feel a breast lump or your routine screening mammogram shows a possible abnormality, a breast ultrasound gives your team a closer look. Ultrasounds are better at showing some breast conditions, such as a fluid-filled breast cyst. They can also check areas of breast calcifications seen on a mammogram and look for additional signs of breast cancer.

  • Supplemental breast cancer screening

    In certain people, a breast ultrasound is used along with a mammogram for breast cancer screening. Your doctor might recommend an ultrasound as a supplement to your routine mammogram if you:

    • Are pregnant
    • Have a high risk for breast cancer but can’t have an MRI
    • Are younger than 25
    • Have dense breasts
  • Ultrasound-guided breast biopsy

    If you need a breast biopsy, your care team may also use an ultrasound to guide your procedure. An ultrasound-guided breast biopsy uses ultrasound imaging to help your provider place the biopsy needle and take a precise tissue sample in a lump or area of concern in the breast.

Preparing for an ultrasound of the breast


As with any medical test, knowing what to expect with a breast ultrasound can help put your mind at ease. To help you prepare for your ultrasound, your provider will let you know the test’s purpose and answer any questions.

In general, you don’t need to do much to prepare for an ultrasound ahead of time. Before your test, checking your health insurance to understand your coverage is a good idea. But otherwise, you can follow your routine in the days leading up to your test. Most breast ultrasounds take about 15-30 minutes, so you can expect to be in and out in less than an hour.

How to prepare for a breast ultrasound

On the day of your breast ultrasound, you should take a few steps to help you prepare:

  • Eat and drink as you usually would.
  • Avoid using lotion, powder or deodorant near the breasts.
  • Wear a two-piece outfit so it’s easy to undress from the waist up.

What to expect during a breast ultrasound

Before your ultrasound, you’ll undress from the waist up and put on a gown. Then, you’ll lie on a table, and your ultrasound technologist will help you get in the correct position. Using a clear gel, your technologist will move the transducer on the breast and take images. Once the images are taken, the gel is wiped off, and your test is complete.

What to expect after a breast ultrasound

After your breast ultrasound, a radiologist reviews the images of your breast. Based on this review, your doctor will let you know if you need additional testing or follow-up care.

Breast ultrasound vs mammogram

Breast ultrasounds and mammograms are imaging tests that give your doctor more information about your breast health—but there are some differences. Mammography, including 3D mammography or tomosynthesis, is an X-ray of the breast and uses a low radiation dose. Breast ultrasounds don't use any radiation. Instead, images are created using sound waves.

Mammograms are still the primary imaging test to check breast health. They are the recommended choice for routine breast cancer screening in people with an average risk of breast cancer. However, breast ultrasound is beneficial in some cases because it lets your care team get a different look at the inside of your breast.

Our breast imaging centers near you

When you need a breast ultrasound, we offer several locations for your care, including breast imaging centers in North and Central Texas. Find an imaging center near you.

Preguntas frecuentes

  • Can a breast ultrasound detect cancer?

    Yes, but a breast ultrasound can miss early signs of cancer, so it’s not the first choice for breast cancer screening. Typically, an ultrasound is used with or as a follow-up to a routine mammogram, not as a screening itself.

  • Is it common to have an ultrasound after a mammogram?

    No, it’s not common. About 1 in 10 people will be called back after a mammogram for more testing. Sometimes, this includes a breast ultrasound. You may have an ultrasound if your mammogram shows dense breast tissue or if an area needs a closer look.

  • Is ultrasound better for dense breasts?

    Ultrasounds may be helpful if you have dense breasts, but they should be used along with mammograms. Using a breast ultrasound and a mammogram for screening has been shown to increase breast cancer detection in those with dense breasts.

  • What does breast cancer look like on an ultrasound?

    Breast cancer usually appears as a slightly lighter, irregularly shaped spot on an ultrasound. Breast cysts tend to be darker and shaped like an oval or circle. The radiologist who reviews your images is specially trained to distinguish between the two.

  • How long does a breast ultrasound take?

    Most breast ultrasounds take about 15-30 minutes. If you need additional images, it may take slightly longer. Ask your care team if you have questions about setting aside the right time for your appointment.