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What’s the Difference between an Ultrasound or Mammogram for Breast Cancer Detection?

Mammogram or Ultrasound

If you’ve had an annual screening mammogram that needs further review, your doctor may suggest you undergo additional testing with either a diagnostic mammogram or ultrasound. Read on to learn the differences between the two procedures and how both can aid in the detection of breast cancer.

What Is an Ultrasound?

Ultrasound uses sound waves to form pictures of breast tissue on a computer. During the procedure, the technician will apply gel to the affected breast and glide a wand-like instrument (transducer) over the breast. The transducer delivers sound waves to the area of breast being tested and receives an echo-like feedback as it bounces off of body tissue. This feedback is turned into images recorded on a computer.

How Does Ultrasound Work for Breast Cancer Detection?

Ultrasound has many advantages in detecting breast cancer. The procedure produces images of lumps that may not show up on a mammogram and can detect changes in breast tissue, especially for women with dense breasts. Additionally, ultrasound can discern the differences between cysts (usually fluid-filled, noncancerous growths) and solid masses, which are more likely to be cancerous and need further testing. Ultrasound is also helpful in pinpointing an area targeted for a needle-biopsy.

Benefits of Using Ultrasound for Breast Cancer Detection

Ultrasound offers many benefits for breast cancer detection. The procedure is:

  • Safe
  • Painless
  • Affordable
  • Widely available
  • Radiation-free

What Is a Mammogram?

A mammogram uses x-rays to capture images of breast tissue. Screening mammograms are routinely used for women over 40 who have no prior history of breast cancer. Diagnostic mammograms are ordered for women whose screening mammogram revealed abnormalities, or when a doctor notices breast changes that need further examination.

How Does a Mammogram Work for Breast Cancer Detection?

Mammograms, and especially newer 3D mammograms, take a series of pictures of breast tissue from a variety of different angles and assemble them on a computer for study. A diagnostic mammogram will take longer than a regular screening mammogram since the radiologist needs extremely detailed images to search for abnormalities. More images will be taken and the technician may zoom in on certain areas for additional x-rays.

Benefits of a Mammogram for Breast Cancer Detection

Diagnostic mammograms are effective in determining if the following symptoms indicate the presence of breast cancer:

  • Lumps
  • Pain in the breast
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Thickened skin on the breast
  • Size or shape changes in the breast

Diagnostic mammograms provide highly detailed x-ray images and are more effective for women with breast implants and dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue and abnormalities both appear white on x-rays. Diagnostic mammograms are helpful in distinguishing the difference between normal dense tissue and lumps or masses. Additionally, diagnostic mammograms are effective in finding lumps that are too small to feel and exposing a condition called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS are abnormal cells present in breast ducts that sometimes turn into invasive cancer.

If it’s time to schedule your yearly mammogram or you need additional diagnostic testing, contact us today for a consultation with Neighborhood Radiology Services. Our team of board-certified physicians specializes in women’s imaging, ultrasound, diagnostic radiology, and much more to diagnose and treat conditions of the breast. We have several convenient locations to serve patients in Greater NYC, including Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island. Fill out the form on this page to request an appointment or call 800-220-2220 to learn more.

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