Breast ultrasounds and mammograms are not the same thing. While they both can be used as tools to detect breast cancer, they have key differences as well. It’s important to know those differences. A diagnostic mammogram is a radiologic procedure given to women who have signs and symptoms of breast disease, personal history of breast cancer, or personal history of biopsy, according to the American College of Radiology.A screening mammogram, on the other hand, is a radiologic procedure given to women without signs or symptoms of breast disease, designed for the purpose of early detection of breast cancer.
While mammograms remain the gold standard for breast cancer detection, breast ultrasounds have the added advantage of identifying specific changes in the breast. Breast ultrasounds should not be used in place of mammograms, but each test can complement the other, allowing healthcare providers to use the results of both for the clearest picture of breast health, cancer screening, and diagnosis.
Today, let’s review the differences between breast ultrasounds and mammograms, as well as the benefits, limitations, and risks of each imaging type.
How They Work
One key difference between a mammogram and a breast ultrasound is the way in which they work. While mammograms use low-dose radiation to X-ray your breasts, ultrasounds use sound waves.
- Radiation: Yes, you are exposed to small amounts of radiation with a mammogram, but the benefits typically far outweigh the risks for most women.
- Sound waves: An ultrasound’s sound waves create an echo that produces the image you see, with no radiation emitted.
Another big difference between the two approaches is image quality.
- Mammograms: If a suspicious area in the breast is identified, a diagnostic mammogram will then be ordered which can take more pictures than a routine mammogram and focus only on the affected area.
- Ultrasounds: A breast ultrasound can’t identify microcalcifications in the breast. While microcalcifications don’t always indicate you have breast cancer for sure, many early breast cancers are suspected due to the presence of those calcifications.
Benefits of Breast Ultrasounds
Ultrasound is not usually used as a routine screening test for breast cancer; however, it can be useful for looking at breast changes like lumps that the woman can feel but that aren’t seen on mammogram. Ultrasound is especially helpful in women with dense breast tissue, which makes it difficult to see abnormal areas on mammograms, says the American Cancer Society.
Ultrasounds can also provide a better view of suspicious areas that were initially seen on a mammogram. They are also very accurate. SonoCine Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound (SonoCine AWBUS™), used here at the Sono Center, features technology that is 300 percent more accurate than mammography at detecting small (less than 1cm) invasive cancers.
This tool is useful in that it can detect the difference between fluid-filled masses (such as cysts that are rarely cancerous) and solid masses (which could be cancerous but would need further testing).
Radiologists also use ultrasound to help them in guiding biopsy needles into suspicious areas of the breast or in swollen lymph nodes that can then later be tested for cancer.
Benefits of Mammograms
Mammograms are essentially low-dose x-rays that help in the detection of breast cancer. Women are usually recommended to have a yearly mammogram starting at age 40, or earlier if considered high risk.
Mammograms can save your life. Early detection of breast cancer can reduce your risk of dying from this cancer by 25 to 30 percent or more, according to Breastcancer.org. Mammography is a relatively quick procedure, taking about 20 minutes, with minimal discomfort for most women.
A mammogram is a non-invasive X-ray that checks breasts for the presence of breast cancer or other abnormalities. Because this test can detect cancer early, when it’s most treatable, this improves odds of survival while avoiding more extensive treatment.
AWBUS as a Complement to Mammogram
Both breast ultrasound and mammography are valuable tools in the detection of breast cancer. While breast ultrasound should not take the place of mammograms, it can be used as a complementary tool for women at high risk of breast cancer or women who have dense breasts.
The SonoCine Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound (SonoCine AWBUS), a computer-guided ultrasound system, can be used in addition to a traditional mammogram. This tool can provide greater visual detail of the breast tissue, which is especially helpful for women with dense breast tissue or implants.
FDA-cleared for all dense-breasted women, the SonoCine AWBUS exam – unlike other ultrasound exams – provides whole breast coverage, including the underarm, clavicle, in between the breasts, the sides of the breasts, and all the way back to the chest wall. As a result, this technology can pick up on small cancers even before mammography can.
Book Your Breast Ultrasound at the Sono Center Today
If you would like to complement your yearly mammogram with a breast ultrasound, book your appointment online for SonoCine AWBUS now. Our leading radiology facility is located in Pasadena, CA, where we specialize in breast screening and the early detection of breast cancers that are most frequently missed with mammography. You can find us at 960 E Green St #166 in Pasadena, CA, and we can be reached at (626) 381-9430.
Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is intended for general informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.