Breast ultrasounds are an important tool in women’s health care. The test can help detect benign and malignant breast changes. Here we will explain what it is, how it is performed and what it is used for. As well as the importance it has in during the menopause.
What is a breast ultrasound and how is it performed?
Ultrasound, also known as an echosonogram, is a widely used imaging study for the diagnosis of different diseases.
Its technology is based on high-frequency sound waves. When they hit a specific area of the body, they help to create an image of the organs or tissues. Thus, an ultrasound makes it possible to see the breast in detail and identify if there are lumps or cysts inside the breast. This test is commonly performed in a radiology office. It is performed by a specialist in breast radiology or ultrasound (1,2,3).
It is performed with the support of a transducer (a metal and plastic device) that the doctor will slide over your breasts. To do this, he or she will use a small amount of conductive gel that will be applied to your skin (1,2,3).
Importance of a breast ultrasound in menopause
1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, especially after the age of 50 (4). Fortunately, there is a high chance of recovery when the disease is detected in its early stages (4,5).
Regular breast self-examination is a healthy habit that all women should incorporate into their self-care routine. However, it can fall short in identifying changes in breast tissue. In fact, many lumps are so small that they cannot be felt by palpation of the breast. This is where a breast ultrasound becomes relevant, as it is an early and effective screening test in conjunction with mammography and breast biopsy (1,2,3,4,5).
Benefits of a breast ultrasound
Some of the benefits of an ultrasound include (1,2,3,4,5):
- It is a non-invasive study.
- It is not a painful procedure.
- It takes a short amount of time and requires no prior preparation.
- Has the ability to detect tumours in their early stages.
- Allows differentiation of solid nodules from cysts.
- No complications for the patients.
When should you have an ultrasound?
For women under 35 years of age, it is best to use a breast ultrasound. This is because their breasts are denser and are better observed in this study. For women over 50 years of age, it is usually suggested to complement the ultrasound with a mammogram. These studies should be done every 3 years, unless a doctor indicates to do them more frequently (4,5).
If you have any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor (5):
- Significant changes in the skin of the breasts, such as redness or orange peel skin, which differ from dry skin.
- Easily visible or palpable breast lumps.
- Nipple changes such as nipple retraction or nipple discharge.
- Armpit or nipple pain.
If the specialist finds anything suspicious, he or she may order some extra tests, such as a mammogram, CT scan or breast biopsy (5).
Prior preparation for this study
As mentioned above, this is a simple test that does not require a lot of preparation. Consider wearing an easy-to-remove outfit, as you will be asked to remove your upper body clothing. You may also want to bring some wet or paper towels to remove the conductive gel from your skin when the test is over (2,3).
A breast ultrasound is an early detection test for breast cancer which, if necessary, is confirmed with a biopsy. Ask your doctor if you are due for one and get started with your check-ups. Learn more about other menopause-related topics such as muscle aches and what is muscle mass.
- NHS. Ultrasound scan [Internet]. 2021 Jul 28 [cited 2023 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ultrasound-scan/
- Royal Surrey. Mammography and Breast Ultrasound [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.royalsurrey.nhs.uk/mammography-and-breast-ultrasound/
- NHS Sherwood Forest Hospitals. Ultrasound examination [Internet]. 2021 Jun [cited 2023 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.sfh-tr.nhs.uk/media/1534/pil202106-04-bu-breast-ultrasound.pdf
- NHS. Breast cancer in women [Internet]. 2022 Oct 28 [cited 2023 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-cancer/
- Public Health England. NHS breast screening: helping you decide [Internet]. 2021 Oct 31 [cited 2023 Mar 24]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/breast-screening-helping-women-decide/nhs-breast-screening-helping-you-decide