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Ultrasound scan

Ultrasound scans use sound waves to create a picture of a part of the body. You might need to have an ultrasound of your liver and spleen to look for changes. If your doctor can feel that these are enlarged, you may not need this test.

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.

Preparing for your scan

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

You might need to stop eating for 6 hours beforehand. Let the scan team know if this will be a problem for any reason, for example if you are diabetic.

They might ask you to drink plenty before your scan so that you have a comfortably full bladder.

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. You lie on a couch for the test.

During the scan

The sonographer puts a cold lubricating gel over the area. Then they gently rub the handheld probe over your skin. The gel helps the probe to slide over your skin so that the sonographer gets clear pictures on the screen.

You might feel a little pressure when the sonographer moves the probe over the area they want to view. Tell them if it is uncomfortable.

An ultrasound can take up to 45 minutes. The sonographer might ask you to move position a few times, so they can get the clearest pictures.

You can have a family member or a friend with you while you have the scan. Just let the sonographer know that someone will be with you.

What happens afterwards

You can eat and drink normally after the test. You go straight home or back to the ward 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

Your scan will be looked at by a specialist doctor and you should get your results within 1 or 2 weeks. You won't get any results at the time of the scan. 

Waiting for test results can make you anxious. Ask your doctor or nurse how long it will take to get them. Contact them if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

You might have the contact details for a specialist nurse. You can contact them for information and support if you need to. It may 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: 
09 May 2019
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    M Longmore, IB Wilkinson, A Baldwin and E Wallin
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  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
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