Early detection is key when treating breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate is approximately 99% when breast cancer is localized and detected early. A thorough breast cancer screening is the best tool for early detection. When most women consider breast cancer detection, they automatically think of mammograms. A mammogram is absolutely necessary to evaluate abnormal breast tissue, but a breast ultrasound is just as important.

At Bedford Breast Center in Los Angeles, CA, Heather Richardson, MD, FACS, and Leslie Memsic, MD, FACS, perform comprehensive in-office breast ultrasounds, so you can get the care you need in a welcoming environment where you feel safe and heard.

What is a Breast Ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound is a safe, painless imaging test that uses sound waves to see whether a breast lump is a solid mass or filled with fluid (a cyst). Breast ultrasounds do not use radiation. Instead, the sound waves the test uses to produce an image of the breast’s internal structures. While a breast ultrasound doesn’t replace the need for a mammogram, it can check for abnormal screening results.

Currently, a breast ultrasound is the only non-invasive test to determine if an abnormal mass is a cyst. Without breast ultrasounds, the only way to diagnose a cyst is through a breast biopsy, which requires removing the fluid through a needle.

Why Are Breast Ultrasounds Used?

Breast ultrasounds are most often used to evaluate issues detected during a routine physical exam or mammogram. If your mammogram detects an abnormal mass, or your physician feels a lump during a manual breast exam, a breast ultrasound is the appropriate next step. 

While most masses are benign, early detection of breast cancer greatly improves your overall outcome. In women that already have a breast cancer diagnosis, a breast ultrasound is used to examine lymph nodes under the arms, which signifies whether cancer has spread.

A breast ultrasound is also the preferred diagnostic test for younger women, who naturally have dense breast tissue and abundant milk glands. Dense glandular tissue is difficult to distinguish from cancerous masses on a traditional mammogram, so a breast ultrasound can provide a clearer image.

If you undergo a mammogram, your results will state whether you have dense breast tissue. At Bedford Breast Center in Los Angeles, CA, Dr. Richardson and Dr. Memsic always recommend a breast ultrasound for a complete diagnostic evaluation if you have dense breast tissue.

For women carrying the mutated BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, there is some concern that the limited exposure to radiation produced by mammography can damage DNA. In a study conducted by the Center for Research on Women’s Health, University of Toronto, Canada, it was determined that there was no association between exposure to radiation in a mammogram and breast cancer. Regardless, the use of ultrasound removes the possibility that this may be a concern in the future.

What are the limitations of a breast ultrasound?

A breast ultrasound is an effective tool for examining breast tissue, but it isn’t a comprehensive test. That’s why a mammogram is also necessary for a detailed analysis. Breast ultrasounds cannot:

Show Microcalcifications

A microcalcification is a buildup of calcium around a tumor. These minute calcifications can be telltale signs of cancerous tumors that are commonly seen on mammograms.

Capture Images of the Entire Breast

Breast ultrasounds are taken through handheld transducers, so it’s impossible to capture an image of the entire breast in one snapshot.

Evaluate Deep Breast Tissue

Breast ultrasounds primarily evaluate tissue closer to the surface of the breast. For deeper tissue inspection, Drs. Richardson and Memsic at Bedford Breast Center in Los Angeles, CA always recommends a mammogram.

The Breast Ultrasound Procedure

A breast ultrasound is a relatively quick test. When you first arrive, you lie down on an exam table and raise your arms over your head. Once you’re comfortable, the sonographer will apply a special gel to your breasts and slowly move the handheld transducer over each one. The sound waves then bounce off of your breast tissue, while the transducer picks them up. The bounced sound waves are then transformed into images, allowing Dr. Richardson to view the tissue inside your breasts.

During the test, your sonographer can attach a Doppler probe device to the transducer to hear the sound waves. A Doppler probe helps your provider listen to the blood flow within the blood vessels of your breast tissue. If the flow is faint or silent, it may indicate a blockage.

Does a breast ultrasound hurt?

Breast ultrasounds should never feel painful or uncomfortable. However, you may feel slight discomfort if the transducer scans over a sensitive or tender area of your breast. Because ultrasound technology doesn’t use radiation, breast ultrasounds are even safe to use during pregnancy.

Is there any downtime after my breast ultrasound?

Most breast ultrasounds take about 30 minutes to complete. In most instances, you can resume your normal activities immediately after the exam.

What is an ultrasound-guided biopsy?

If your breast ultrasound or mammogram detects a suspicious mass, Dr. Richardson or Dr. Memsic — leaders of our imaging team — can perform an ultrasound-guided biopsy. During this in-office procedure, the ultrasound helps direct the doctor to the exact area of concern. The ultrasound itself displays an image of your breast tissue, so the doctor can properly reach the mass in question.

First, your doctor inserts a tiny needle into the mass. Next, they remove a small sample of cells, which is later analyzed by a pathologist. This type of biopsy is less invasive than a surgical biopsy, and there is little to no scarring.

Medical Diagnostic Imaging Center In Los Angeles, CA

Bedford Breast Center in Los Angeles, CA has state-of-the-art medical diagnostic imaging center helmed by top leaders in the medical field. To learn more about our medical diagnostic imaging center, breast ultrasounds or to schedule an appointment with a board-certified practitioner, contact Bedford Breast Center today.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact Dr Heather Richardson at the Bedford Breast Center servicing Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and the greater Los Angeles area.