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Ultrasound scan

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

You might have an ultrasound of your tummy (abdominal ultrasound), neck or groin to look for swollen (enlarged) lymph nodes. Or to look at organs such as your liver and kidneys.

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.

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 member of staff might ask you to take off your outer 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.

You go into the scanning room which is slightly darkened, this helps the sonographer when looking at the screen. 

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. 

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 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: 
06 Feb 2018
  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures, 9th edition
    L Dougherty and S Lister (Editors)
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

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

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