Decorative image

Ultrasound scans

An ultrasound scan is a procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to create a picture of a part of the inside of your body.

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.

Ultrasound scans are completely painless. You usually have them in the hospital x-ray department by a sonographer. 

Why you have it

Your doctor might use an ultrasound scan to look at your gallbladder. If there is a tumour, your doctor might also be able to tell whether the cancer has spread into the wall of the gallbladder.

How you have it

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.

External ultrasound scans

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.

Before the scan

When you arrive at the clinic a member of staff might ask you to take off your clothing down to your underwear and put on a hospital gown. It will depend on what part of the body you're having scanned as to whether you have to undress or not. 

During the scan

You lie on the couch next to the ultrasound machine. You might be able to sit up depending on which part of your body is being scanned.

The sonographer will spread a clear gel onto your skin over the area they are checking. The gel feels cold. It helps to transmit the sound waves to the microphone. The scan appears on a screen next to you. 

You might feel a little pressure as the sonographer presses the microphone against your skin and moves it around the area being scanned. Tell them if this is uncomfortable. 

An ultrasound scan can take up to 45 minutes depending on what's being scanned.

Photograph of man having ultrasound

What happens afterwards

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

Possible risks

Ultrasound scans are 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. The doctor may be able to let you know if they have seen any abnormal areas that have been sent to the laboratory.

Waiting for results can make you anxious. Ask your doctor or nurse how long it will take to get them.

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

You might have contact details for a specialist nurse and you can contact them for information if you need to. It can help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For information and support, you can also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
07 Jan 2020
  • Oxford handbook of clinical medicine (10th edition)
    M Longmore and others
    Oxford University Press, 2017

  • Biliary cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. 
    Valle J W et al (2016)
    Annals of Oncology 27 (supplement 5): v28-v37

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

Information and help