An ultrasound is an imaging scan that can help diagnose specific types of cancer. Ultrasounds use high-frequency sound waves to create sonograms, or two-dimensional images of the inside of the body. A technician will use a transducer wand to send out the sound waves, and as they reflect off organs and tissues, a computer translates the echoes into images.
Ultrasounds only take a few minutes and are very safe. However, the images produced by an ultrasound are less detailed than those produced by an MRI or CT scan. On a sonogram, unusually dense tissues (such as tumors) will show up as darker patches on a lighter background of healthy tissue, but the extent of a cancer may be hard to determine.
Although they produce less detailed images than certain other methods, ultrasounds may be recommended if:
- There is a possibility that a lesion might be a fluid-filled cyst instead of a tumor (ultrasounds can distinguish the two based on echo patterns, whereas other imaging scans cannot tell the difference)
- A physician suspects a soft tissue abnormality that traditionally doesn’t show up well on X-rays
- A physician needs to see if cancer has spread into the blood vessels, especially in the liver or pancreas (this can be done with a special ultrasound machine called a Doppler Flow machine)
- Radiation exposure is a concern (ultrasounds do not use radioactive waves, the way that CT scans, MRIs and X-rays do)
An ultrasound may also be done to guide a biopsy, which is a different kind of test in which a small sample of tissue is taken from a tumor. A real-time ultrasound image can help a patient’s physician more accurately guide the biopsy needle into the lesion.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s ultrasound services are provided by skilled technicians, and results are analyzed by a team of board-certified radiologists. To learn more about how we use ultrasound technology to detect tumors, call 1-888-663-3488 or request an appointment online.