Ultrasound and mammography

This is a guest post by Sarah Scrafford, who regularly writes on the topic of Online Ultrasound Technician Schools. She invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries via email: sarah.scrafford25@gmail.com

Cancer is one of the few diseases that has always been one step ahead of medical technology and research. While we do have a large amount of information about the disease, we’ve hardly explored the tip of the iceberg – there’s still a whole lot that we don’t know, and we lack a cure. We know that chemotherapy and radiation help to kill the cancer cells and we know that detection at an early stage increases chances of survival. But we don’t know why certain people get cancer and others don’t. We don’t understand why some forms of cancer are not detectable until it’s too late to do anything about them, and we certainly are far from finding a definite cure for this dreaded disease.

One area where we have made advances though, is in the early detection of some forms of cancer. Women have been plagued by breast cancer for ages, and it’s only now that they’re waking up to the fact that they can be completely cured if only they detect the malignant growth early. While mammograms are used as a matter of routine to check if the breasts have cancerous lumps, not many people know that an ultrasound scan of the breasts can be just as effective as a mammogram if not more so.

Here’s why a breast ultrasound scores over mammography:

  • Unlike mammograms that use X-rays, ultrasound does not use radiation (it uses mechanical waves) to detect the presence of cancerous tissue and cells. Radiation, in large amounts, may harm your cells and make them cancerous.
  • Mammograms search your breasts for microcalcifications only, while ultrasounds detect the shape and texture of these microcalcifications as well.
  • It’s relatively inexpensive and available at most hospitals and healthcare centers.
  • It’s painless when compared to a mammogram, which some patients say is a little painful.
  • An ultrasound can detect if a lump is benign or malignant, something that a mammogram cannot.
  • It scans the whole breast while a mammogram does not cover the entire area.
  • A mammogram does not work efficiently for breasts that are dense.
  • Ultrasounds with color pre-processing options show contrasts in the scan pictures more sharply and are hence used for a more specific diagnosis.
  • Ultrasound does not require compression of the breasts, and this is why it’s a more comfortable procedure.
  • Ultrasound produces images of high quality that make the identification and localization, and hence treatment, of the cancer, easier.
  • An ultrasound can differentiate between solid tumors and cysts filled with fluid.

Even with all these advantages, ultrasounds are not used frequently as a detection method for breast cancer because of the high percentage of false positives.

December 29, 2006

5 thoughts on “Ultrasound and mammography”

  1. An ultrasound can detect if a lump is benign or malignant…

    Wrong, wrong and WRONG!!! Yes, ultrasounds differentiates between cysts (virtually always benign) and solid lesions (sometimes malignant), but the ONLY way to know for sure about a given lump is tissue diagnosis, which means biopsy. As it happens, ultrasound can also be very useful in helping to do those biopsies. But there is absolutely NO WAY that ultrasound should be thought of as a substitute for mammography. For example, many microcalcifications found on mammogram CAN’T be seen on ultrasound.

    Ultrasound is vital when used in CONJUNCTION with mammography. This post is dangerously misleading to imply that it is an acceptable substitute to it.

  2. It agree, it is a remarkable piece
    It is remarkable, rather valuable idea
    Clearly, I thank for the help in this question.
    Excuse, that I can not participate now in discussion – it is very occupied. I will be released – I will necessarily express the opinion on this question.
    Bravo, what necessary phrase…, a brilliant idea

  3. While that I agree that ultrasound is a great invention, I’m unsure if its wise to try and play “1 up” with other diagnostic methods.

    I believe using each technique to complement the others and think of diagnoses as a overall picture will achieve the best patient care. Rather than trying to prove one area of medicine is better than another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *