Breast sonography (breast ultrasound) is used to assess potential abnormalities in a patient’s breasts. A mammogram, a two-dimensional X-ray, is not able to provide images of the entire breast. Thus an ultrasound is performed to further evaluate abnormalities that may have been found in a mammogram or a during a clinical breast exam. In some cases, a breast ultrasound will reveal an abnormality that was not revealed at all in a mammogram. (Breast sonography is able to produce images of all layers and angles of the breast). If a biopsy needs to be performed on a patient, ultrasound equipment also plays a role in helping locate the tissue that needs to be removed.
Breast ultrasounds are performed to assess lumps and cysts to help determine if they are cancerous or benign. A physician might also order a breast ultrasound if the patient has nipple discharge, breast asymmetry or skin color changes – potential symptoms of breast cancer. A breast MRI may also be used to complement findings from a mammogram and ultrasound.
Both women and men receive breast ultrasounds. Breast enlargement (gynecomastia), asymmetry and lumps are signs that a male may have breast cancer.
The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) is the leading certification agency for diagnostic medical sonographers in the United States and its credentials are recognized worldwide. To earn the RDMS (Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer) credential, sit for ARDMS’ Sonography Principles & Instrumentation (SPI) exam and then one of its specialty exams. The Breast (BR) examination is one of the specialty options. The vast majority of ultrasound schools offer degrees and programs that will qualify and prepare you for the ARDMS certification process.
The ultrasound machine consists of a central processing unit and keyboard, a monitor or screen and a transducer or probe. The breast sonographer will place some gel on the patient’s chest and pass the transducer over this area. The transducer sends sound waves into the breast which bounce back in the form of echoes to create images that show up on the ultrasound monitor. The sonographer will position the transducer at various angles to ensure images of every portion of the breast are captured.
According to the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, 62,000 women and 2,000 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the United States. Since the occurrence of breast cancer is less common among males, there are no fixed guidelines for breast imaging for men like there is for women. For example, in general women are recommended to start getting mammograms at the age of 40; they will receive them earlier if they have closely related relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or if abnormalities were detected during a check-up. Since breast ultrasounds will typically be performed in conjunction with mammograms, many breast sonography patients are female and 40 years of age or older. That being said, males with a strong family history of breast cancer or who have detected abnormalities and been referred by a physician, will also have breast ultrasounds done.