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Breast Cancer

Ultrasound vs. Mammogram

05/19/2008

Question:

I have very dense breast tissue, and mammograms are extremely painful. I also have chronic problems with my rotator cuff which makes lifting my arm in some positions also very painful. Is there any good reason not to have an ultrasound rather than a mammogram? Is it just that the insurance companies won`t pay for it unless something is found on the mammogram?

Answer:

Mammograms and ultrasounds look at the breast in different ways.  The mammogram is still the best way to look at all aspects of the breast for the lowest cost.  Ultrasound is not used to look at the entire breast, either.  It is a focused study meaning that it is intended to look at a specific area of abnormality identified on either exam or mammogram.

In order to do ultrasound correctly, your arm needs to be put over your head - often for a much longer period of time than is needed to do the mammogram.  So it may be even more painful.

Try taking an over-the-counter pain med (aspirin, tylenol, or motrin) 30 minutes prior to your next mammogram.  It should help decrease the discomfort.

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Response by:

Jean T Stevenson, MD, FACS Jean T Stevenson, MD, FACS
Associate Professor of Surgery
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University