Health Tests

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Harvard Medical School


What Happens During the Test?

As you lie on your back on a table, a technician or doctor squirts some clear jelly onto your skin to help the ultrasound sensor slide around easily. He or she then places the sensor against your skin. An image of your breast appears on a video screen. The technician or doctor moves the sensor back and forth over the area of the breast needing examination. This allows the doctor to see the tissue inside from different views.

Sometimes the findings on an ultrasound make drainage of a cyst or a biopsy of a breast lump a prudent idea. In this event, if your doctor requested a biopsy during the ultrasound, your skin will be cleaned with alcohol or another disinfectant. The doctor doing the procedure may inject a local anesthetic. But even without this numbing medicine, you should feel little pain.

Next, the doctor gently pinches your breast to hold the lump steady. He or she inserts a thin needle into the lump. The needle is attached to a syringe, a suction device that "aspirates" or pulls fluid and/or cells through the needle. The sample is sucked back into the syringe. To get a good sample, the doctor may need to move the needle in and out of the lump several times.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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