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Ultrasound scan

Ultrasound scans use high frequency sound waves to create a picture of a part of the body. 

You have an ultrasound scan of your tummy (abdomen) to look at your urinary system (the bladder, kidneys, ureter and urethra).

Why you have it

You have an ultrasound scan to check: 

  • for any signs of cancer in your bladder
  • how big it is and whether it has spread
  • for blockages in the tubes that move urine between your kidneys and bladder (the ureters)

Colour ultrasound (called Doppler ultrasound) can also show the blood flow into your kidneys and the urine flow into your bladder.

How you have an ultrasound scan

The ultrasound scanner has a microphone that gives off sound waves. The sound waves bounce off the organs inside your body, and the microphone picks them up. The microphone links to a computer that turns the sound waves into a picture on the screen.

Diagram of an abdominal ultrasound

Ultrasound scans are completely painless. You usually have the scan in the hospital x-ray department by a sonographer. A sonographer is a trained professional who is specialised in ultrasound scanning.

The scan usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes, but it can take longer.

Preparing for your scan

Check your appointment letter for any instructions about how to prepare for your scan.

You usually need to drink about 1 litre of fluid an hour before the test, so that your bladder is comfortably full. Do not empty your bladder before the test. This is so your bladder can be seen clearly in the scan.

Take your medicines as normal unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

What happens

Before the scan

When you arrive at the clinic a staff member might ask you to take off your upper clothing and put on a hospital gown.

The sonographer will explain what to expect during the test. You can usually have a family member or a friend with you for the test. Just let the sonographer know that someone will be there with you.

During the scan

You're taken to the ultrasound room or bay. The area is quite dark.

You lie on a couch for the test next to the ultrasound machine.

The sonographer puts a cold gel over your abdomen. Then they gently slide the handheld probe over your skin. The gel helps the sonographer get clear pictures on the screen.

You might feel a little pressure when the sonographer moves the probe over your abdomen. Tell them if it is uncomfortable.

The sonographer might ask you to change position a few times or hold your breath so they can get clear pictures.

They might also ask you to empty your bladder during the test so that they can scan it whilst empty. The sonographer will let you know if you need to do this.

Having a full bladder may make you feel uncomfortable and you’ll have the urge to go to the toilet.

What happens afterwards

When the scan is finished the sonographer will give you a paper towel to wipe the gel away. You can get dressed.

You can drink normally after the test.

You can go straight home or back to work afterwards.

Possible risks

An ultrasound scan is a very safe procedure. It doesn’t involve radiation and there are usually no side effects.

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks at a follow up appointment.

Waiting for test results can be a worrying time. You can contact your specialist nurse if you’re finding it hard to cope. It can also help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Contact the doctor that arranged the test if you haven't heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Last reviewed: 
17 May 2019
  • BMJ Best Practice. Bladder Cancer
    D Lamm
    BMJ Publishing Group, Updated June 2018.

  • Bladder cancer: ESMO Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    J Bellmunt and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2014. Volume 25, Supplement 3, Pages 40-48

  • EAU Guidelines on Non-muscle-invasive Bladder Cancer (TaT1 and CIS)
    M Babjuk and others
    European Association of Urology, 2017

  • Oxford handbook of clinical medicine (10th edition)
    M Longmore, IB Wilkinson, A Baldwin and E Wallin
    Oxford University Press, 2017

  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.