Breast ultrasound scan

A breast ultrasound scan is a test that uses high frequency sound waves to create a picture of the inside of the breast. 

The ultrasound scanner has a probe that gives off sound waves. The probe looks a bit like a microphone. The sound waves bounce off the tissues in your breast, and the probe picks them up. The probe links to a computer that turns the sound waves into a picture on the screen.

A specialist healthcare professional called a sonographer usually does the test. 

When you might have a breast ultrasound scan

You might have a breast ultrasound:

  • as a first test if you have a lump in the breast
  • if you have a lump in your breast that hasn't shown up on a mammogram
  • to see if a breast lump is solid or if contains fluid (a cyst)

You might have this test alongside other tests, such as a breast examination and mammogram in a one stop breast clinic. 

You may also have an ultrasound scan when you are having a biopsy Open a glossary item of the breast. This helps the doctor find the right place to take the biopsy.

Preparing for your breast ultrasound

There isn’t usually any special preparation for a breast ultrasound.

Take any medicines as normal.

During the scan

You will need to take off your upper clothing, including your bra, and put on a hospital gown. You lie on a couch for the test.

radiologist Open a glossary item or a specialist called sonographer puts a lubricating gel over your breast, this can sometimes feel cold. The gel helps the probe to slide over your skin to give clear pictures on the screen. You might feel a little pressure when the sonographer moves the probe over your breast. Do tell them if it is uncomfortable. The sonographer may also look at the lymph nodes Open a glossary item in your armpit (axilla).

It can take about 10 to 15 minutes. The sonographer might ask you to move position a few times, bringing your arm up and down.

You can usually 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.

Photograph of someone having a breast ultrasound

After your breast ultrasound

You can get dressed straight after the ultrasound. A specialist looks at the ultrasound pictures. 

You might not need any further tests if everything looks normal. If the test shows a fluid-filled lump, a doctor or nurse might drain the fluid with a needle.

If the scan shows a solid lump, you might need to have more tests. These might include a mammogram or taking a sample of cells from the abnormal area. This is a biopsy. 

In a one-stop breast clinic, you may have all these tests during the same visit.

Getting your results

You might get some of the results on the same day.

If you had a breast biopsy you need to wait for a week or so. Waiting for test results can be a very worrying time. You 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.

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

Contact the staff at the clinic if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Possible risks

Breast ultrasound is a very safe test. It doesn’t involve radiation and there are usually no side effects. 

  • Early and locally advanced breast cancer: diagnosis and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2018. Last updated 2023

  • Guidance on screening and symptomatic breast imaging (Fourth Edition)
    The Royal College of Radiologists, 2019

  • Early Breast Cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    F Cardoso and others 
    Annals of Oncology, 2019. Volume 30, Issue 8. Pages 1194-1220

  • European guidelines for quality assurance in breast cancer screening and diagnosis. Fourth edition - summary document
    N Perry and others 
    Annals of Oncology, 2008. Vol 19, Issue 4. Pages 614-622

  • Assessment of breast mass
    BMJ Best Practice, Last updated 2022

Last reviewed: 
02 May 2023
Next review due: 
02 May 2026

Related links