What is an ultrasound?
Also known as sonography, an ultrasound is an imaging test that uses high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of internal organs. By capturing images in real time, ultrasound exams reveal the structure and movement of organs such as the heart, blood vessels, kidneys and liver. Unlike X-rays, ultrasound exams do not use radiation.
The ultrasound sends out sound waves that bounce against the organs and reverberate back to a device called a transducer. The transducer processes the reflected waves and converts them into an image of targeted organs or tissues, projected onto a computer.
The sound waves travel at varying speeds, depending on the type of tissue under examination. The tissue types are identified by the speed and volume of the sound waves as they return to the transducer. The sound waves echo off abnormal tissue differently than they do healthy tissue, allowing our doctors to distinguish tumors from normal cells.
Because ultrasounds identify locations of abnormal tissue, they may also be used to pinpoint the position of a tumor in order to guide a biopsy or aspiration procedure. For example, an ultrasound may be used to mark out the boundaries of a tumor prior to its removal. It may also be used to administer cancer treatments.
How it works
Ultrasound tests are often named for the body part they are being used to examine—a breast ultrasound or an abdominal ultrasound, for example. Ultrasounds are commonly used to explore tissue in the abdomen, breast, heart (cardiac ultrasound), pelvis, prostate, kidneys, testicle and thyroid.
Ultrasounds are typically painless, but you may feel some discomfort if the transducer is pressed against your body. During the procedure, you will lie on a table next to the ultrasound scanner, which is attached to the transducer.
Ultrasounds are typically performed by an ultrasound technologist, also called a sonographer. The ultrasound technologist applies gel to your skin to help eliminate air pockets that would compromise the quality of the images. While the transducer is pressed firmly against the gel, the screen displays images of the targeted tissue or organs. The ultrasound procedure typically takes less than 20 minutes. Our radiologists are highly trained and experienced in reading imaging tests, and they are responsible for interpreting ultrasounds and consulting with the patient’s care team on the results.