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Breast Ultrasound Scan vs. Mammogram: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to breast health, early detection plays a crucial role in successfully diagnosing and treating any abnormalities. Two ...

When it comes to breast health, early detection plays a crucial role in successfully diagnosing and treating any abnormalities. Two commonly used diagnostic imaging techniques are the breast ultrasound scan and mammogram. But what exactly are the differences between these two methods? In this article, we will delve into the specifics of each procedure, their uses, benefits, and limitations, helping you make an informed decision about which one you should opt for.

Understanding Breast Ultrasound Scan:

A breast ultrasound scan, also known as sonography, utilizes sound waves to create detailed images of the internal structures of the breast. This non-invasive procedure allows doctors to examine breast tissue, identify any abnormalities, and assess their characteristics. Unlike mammograms, ultrasounds do not involve radiation exposure, making them a safe option for pregnant women and individuals concerned about radiation-related risks.

Primary Uses of Breast Ultrasound Scan:

  1. Supplementary Evaluation: Ultrasounds are commonly used as a supplemental tool to further evaluate findings from mammograms or physical exams. They help provide a more comprehensive understanding of any potential abnormalities detected.
  2. Breast Lumps: Ultrasounds are particularly effective in investigating breast lumps. They can determine whether a lump is solid or fluid-filled (cystic). This information aids in determining the appropriate treatment plan.
  3. Younger Patients: For younger individuals with denser breast tissue, ultrasounds serve as a valuable method to assist in detecting breast abnormalities that might not be as visible on a mammogram.

Advantages of Breast Ultrasound Scan:

  • Non-ionizing Radiation: The absence of radiation exposure ensures the safety of this procedure, posing no known risks or harmful effects.
  • Versatility: Breast ultrasounds can be performed on people of all ages, including pregnant or nursing women, without any concerns of radiation affecting an unborn child or breastfeeding infant.
  • Pain-free: The procedure is non-invasive and painless, involving only the use of a transducer (a handheld device) that glides over the breast area.
  • Better Differentiation: Ultrasounds provide a clearer picture of fluid-filled cysts, distinguishing them from solid masses and guiding further treatment decisions.

Limitations and Considerations:

  • Limited Detection of Microcalcifications: Ultrasounds may not detect microcalcifications, which are tiny mineral deposits that could indicate early signs of breast cancer. Such calcifications are typically visible on mammograms.
  • Operator Skill: The accuracy of ultrasounds depends on the experience of the sonographer or technician conducting the procedure.

Understanding Mammograms:

Mammograms are X-ray examinations specifically designed for imaging the breast. They involve compressing the breasts between two plates and exposing them to a small amount of radiation. Mammograms produce detailed images that are interpreted by radiologists to detect any suspicious abnormalities.

Primary Uses of Mammograms:

  1. Routine Screening: Mammograms are recommended as a standard screening method for women starting at the age of 40, or earlier for individuals with a family history of breast cancer. They aid in the early detection of breast cancer and help increase the chances of successful treatment.
  2. Diagnostic Evaluation: In cases where a lump or other breast abnormality is identified, mammograms play a crucial role in evaluating and determining the nature of the abnormality.

Advantages of Mammograms:

  • Detecting Microcalcifications: Mammograms can identify minute calcium deposits (microcalcifications) that might not be visible on ultrasounds.
  • High-resolution Imaging: Mammograms provide highly-detailed images, enabling radiologists to make accurate assessments and potential diagnoses.
  • Traditional Screening Method: Mammograms have been in use for several decades and are considered the gold standard in breast cancer screening.

Limitations and Considerations:

  • Radiation Exposure: Unlike ultrasounds, mammograms involve exposure to a small amount of radiation. While the level of radiation is low and considered safe, individuals concerned about radiation exposure may opt for ultrasounds as an alternative.
  • Breast Density Impact: Mammograms may be less effective in detecting abnormalities in younger women or those with dense breast tissue due to overlapping structures.


Both breast ultrasound scans and mammograms are useful tools in breast cancer detection and diagnosis. While mammograms are the recommended routine screening method for most women, ultrasound scans serve as a valuable supplementary tool, aiding in further evaluation and characterization of breast abnormalities. By understanding the differences between these imaging techniques, individuals can make informed decisions about which option is most suitable based on their age, breast density, and specific concerns.