How is a breast ultrasound different from a mammogram?

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Breast ultrasound produces images of the breast with sound waves rather than x-rays; it is a completely different type of image. Ultrasound is not a good test for general breast cancer screening because certain abnormalities are not visible on this modality. For example, small calcium particles (called microcalcifications) are sometimes an early sign of the development or potential development of breast cancer. These can be detected on a mammogram but are not reliably visible on ultrasound images. It is also possible that a lump that may be seen on a mammogram will not be visible on ultrasound.

If a mass is found on a mammogram, however, ultrasound can be useful in determining if it is solid or fluid-filled. This is an important step in diagnosing breast abnormalities.