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BREAST Table of Contents   
Year : 2010  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 98-104
Pictorial essay: Breast USG

1 Advanced Radiology Centre, Mumbai, India
2 Piramal Diagnostics, Jankharia Imaging, Bhaveshwar Vihar, 383, Sardar V P Road, Mumbai, India

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Date of Web Publication6-May-2010


USG of the breast is now an established modality. It is used in the characterisation of focal breast lesions as well as in the primary evaluation of mammographically dense breasts. It helps guide biopsies as well. We present a pictorial essay on the role of USG in various breast pathologies

Keywords: Breast; ultrasound; mammography

How to cite this article:
Shah G, Jankharia B. Pictorial essay: Breast USG. Indian J Radiol Imaging 2010;20:98-104

How to cite this URL:
Shah G, Jankharia B. Pictorial essay: Breast USG. Indian J Radiol Imaging [serial online] 2010 [cited 2021 Jan 19];20:98-104. Available from:
USG has come a long way from being a modality used by the military for detecting flaws in metal to its present status, where high-resolution scans even help us differentiate benign from malignant breast disease. [1]

It is advisable to perform a targeted breast USG whenever there is a palpable or focal mammographic abnormality in the breast. Although USG is not efficacious as a screening modality, combined mammography and USG pick up more cancers than mammography alone. [2]

For USG examination of the breast, a linear-array transducer of at least 7 MHz frequency is required with a machine that has good spatial and contrast resolution. The patient is scanned in the supine position and then in the contralateral oblique position for the axillary and upper outer quadrants. Color Doppler is not very effective but three-dimensional coronal imaging, [3] as well as elastography, may help to avoid unnecessary biopsies in benign-appearing lesions.

Reporting of the USG and mammography findings is facilitated with the breast imaging reporting and data system (BIRADS) proposed by the American College of Radiology (ACR), which is available at and in some articles. [4]

   Developmental Breast Top
[Figure 1]

The prepubertal breast has only minimal duct development around the nipples. Sometimes this may be asymmetric and may mimic a subareolar mass (similar to gynecomastia in males). This is called premature asymmetric ripening. It is very important to recognize it because if it is surgically excised by mistake, there will be no breast development on the operated side. The findings are identical to those of asymmetric gynecomastia in males. [5]

   Normal Anatomy Top
[Figure 2]

The breast has alternate hyperechoic and hypoechoic layers as follows:

  1. Skin - hyperechoic
  2. Subcutaneous fat - hypoechoic
  3. Fibroglandular parenchyma - hyperechoic
  4. Retromammary fat - hypoechoic
  5. Muscle, mainly the pectoralis major - hyperechoic
Cooper's ligaments are echogenic bands that suspend the breast from the superficial layer of the superficial fascia.

   Three-dimensional Volume USG Top
[Figure 3]

The coronal breast plane is never seen on routine 2D USG. Benign lesions show a compression pattern, whereas malignant lesions show a retraction pattern.

   Cysts Top
[Figure 4]

Simple cysts in the breast are completely anechoic, with a thin echogenic capsule, posterior enhancement, and thin edge shadowing [Figure 4]A. Complex cysts have intracystic echoes, septae or thick walls, and may be seen in clusters [Figure 4] B. Although this is rare, we have seen a case of breast cysticercosis in a patient who also had a cysticercus granuloma in the biceps tendon [Figure 4] C,D. A significant number of complex cysts, especially those with a solid intracystic mass, may be malignant. [6]

   Intraductal and Intracystic Papillomas Top
[Figure 5]

Papillomas in the breast may be intracystic [Figure 5] A or intraductal [Figure 5] B. They are difficult to differentiate from papillary carcinomas and a biopsy is required for the same. Intraductal papillomas are the most frequent cause of a bloody nipple discharge.

   Fibroadenoma Top
[Figure 6]

Fibroadenoma is the most common benign tumor in the breast and is usually seen in young women. It may increase in size during adolescence or pregnancy and lactation, and undergo atrophic changes after menopause. It is usually homogenous, well-circumscribed, hypoechoic, ellipsoid, wider than tall, and may even show posterior enhancement on USG [Figure 6] A. It may undergo calcific degeneration. The calcifications within a fibroadenoma are coarse and may show posterior shadowing [Figure 6]B. Complex fibroadenomas, that is, fibroadenomas with epithelial calcifications, papillary apocrine metaplasia, sclerosing adenosis, and cysts larger than 3 mm, have a higher incidence of transformation into breast cancer. [7]

   Phyllodes Tumors Top
[Figure 7]

These are rapidly growing, benign-looking lesions with cleft-like cystic spaces and are moderately vascular on USG. [8] They are fibroepithelial tumors that may be benign or malignant. They tend to recur and may rarely metastasize.

   Breast Abscess Top
[Figure 8]

Acute abscesses may occur during lactation and are clinically evident [Figure 8] A. In our country, chronic abscesses may be due to tuberculosis and may present as breast lumps with discharging sinuses [Figure 8] B.

   Breast Edema Top
[Figure 9]

Edema of the breast can occur following surgery or radiation. It may also occur due to lymphatic or venous obstruction [Figure 9].

   Radial Scar Top
[Figure 10]

This is a benign complex lesion of sclerosing adenosis that appears spiculated on mammography [Figure 10] A and may show a retraction pattern on 3D coronal USG [Figure 10] B. It is usually ill-defined and hypoechoic on USG and may show posterior shadowing.

   Lipomas and Oil Cysts Top
[Figure 11]

These are fatty tumors in the breast and vary in echogenicity, ranging from echogenic [Figure 11] A lipomas to completely anechoic [Figure 11] oil cysts.

   Hamartomas or Fibroadenolipomas Top
[Figure 12]

These are fat-containing, soft, benign tumors in the breast, with varying amount of fibrous tissue. On USG, they are heterogeneous with hypoechoic and echogenic areas within them.

   Ductal Carcinoma In Situ Top
[Figure 13]

Ductal carcinoma in situ may or may not be seen on USG. It may appear as a small mass or as an ill-defined hypoechoic lesion, with echogenic foci within due to microcalcifications [Figure 13].

   Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Top
[Figure 14]

These are usually irregular, ill-defined, or microlobulated, and show posterior shadowing. They may be taller than wide [Figure 14] and show a retraction pattern on 3D coronal imaging [Figure 3]. Microcalcifications may be seen as echogenic foci within the lesion.

   Invasive Lobular Carcinoma Top
[Figure 15]

This is the second most common breast malignancy and may be seen in elderly women. It is often missed on mammography. On USG, its appearances are variable, ranging from lesions similar to ductal carcinomas to barely visualized areas of architectural distortion with picket-fence shadowing [Figure 15]. Some of these tumors may be occult on USG. [9]

   Medullary Carcinoma Top
[Figure 16]

These are uncommon, benign-appearing lesions, which may be homogenous, hypoechoic, and well-circumscribed on USG [Figure 16].

   Mucinous Carcinoma Top
[Figure 17]

These are also uncommon and benign-appearing. The mucin within may be echogenic on USG and the lesion may show posterior enhancement.

   Paget's Disease Top
[Figure 18]

This is a form of ductal carcinoma involving the epidermis, affecting mainly the nipple, areola, and the surrounding region. Mammography and USG may even be normal. MRI may be useful to determine the extent of the disease. Diagnosis is done by skin biopsy [Figure 18].

   Inflammatory Carcinoma Top
[Figure 19]

This is an aggressive form of breast cancer where the cancer is more diffuse, clogging the lymphatic system under the skin. It is often mistaken for mastitis as the symptoms are very similar and because sometimes there is partial resolution after a course of antibiotics. Mammograms show increased density of the affected breast. MRI may be better for diagnosis. USG shows skin thickening, edema [Figure 19], and enlarged lymph nodes. Core biopsy of the lymph nodes or of the skin may help in diagnosis.

   Recurrent Breast Cancer Top
[Figure 20]

Recurrence may occur even years after treatment of the primary breast cancer. It may occur in the residual breast or even in the chest wall following mastectomy [Figure 20].

   Breast Implants Top
[Figure 21]

MRI is more accurate in evaluation of breast implants and implant-related complications. The intact implant has smooth margins and may show some undulations as well as minimal peri-implant fluid [Figure 21] A. An echogenic capsule is seen, forming a triple line surrounding the completely anechoic implant. Rupture may give rise to multiple, linear echogenic lines in the implant − forming a step-ladder pattern [Figure 21] B − and silicone lying outside the implant may give rise to the snow-storm sign of extracapsular rupture. There is no increased incidence of breast cancer in patients with implants [Figure 21] C, but it may be difficult to detect in the presence of an implant.

   Gynecomastia Top
[Figure 22]

In the male breast, gynecomastia is more common than malignancy. It is seen as an ill-defined hypoechoic swelling behind the nipple, appearing similar to glandular tissue in the female breast [Figure 22].

   Male Breast Cancer Top
[Figure 23]

About 1% of all breast cancers occur in males. USG findings are similar to those of female breast cancer [Figure 23].

   Multifocal Breast Cancer Top
[Figure 24]

Breast cancer can quite often be multifocal [Figure 24], multicentric, or even bilateral. Lobular carcinomas are more notorious for being mulifocal.

USG considerably improves the visualization of tumors in radiodense breasts. It improves the specificity of mammography, and when used to complement mammography, it adds more value to the diagnosis. With a cross-sectional imaging technique, tissue visualization free from overprojection is possible. Contour analysis, exact size, and internal tissue composition of tumors can be evaluated. Lesions located in the breast periphery or close to the chest wall can be studied better.

   References Top

1.Stavros AT, Thickman D, Rapp CL, Dennis MA, Parker SH, Sisney GA. Solid breast nodules: Use of sonography to distinguish between benign and malignant lesions. Radiology 1995;196:123-34.  Back to cited text no. 1  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]  
2.Berg WA, Blume JD, Cormack JB, Mendelson EB, Lehrer D, Bφhm-Vιlez M, et al. Combined screening with USG and mammography vs. mammography alone in women at elevated risk of breast cancer. JAMA 2008;299:2151-63.  Back to cited text no. 2      
3.Weismann C, Hergan K. Current status of 3D/4D volume ultrasound of the breast. Ultraschall Med 2007;28:273-82.  Back to cited text no. 3  [PUBMED]    
4.Mendelson EB, Berg WA, Merritt CR. Toward a standardized breast USG lexicon, BI-RADS: USG. Semin Roentgenol 2001;36:217-25.  Back to cited text no. 4  [PUBMED]    
5.Weinstein SP, Conant EF, Orel SG, Zuckerman JA, Bellah R. Spectrum of US findings in pediatric and adolescent patients with palpable breast masses. Radiographics 2000;20:1613-21.  Back to cited text no. 5  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]  
6.Berg WA, Campassi CI, Ioffe OB. Cystic lesions of the breast: Sonographic-pathologic correlation. Radiology 2003;227:183-91.   Back to cited text no. 6  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]  
7.Sklair-Levy M, Sella T, Alweiss T, Craciun I, Libson E, Mally B. Incidence and management of complex fibroadenomas. AJR Am J Roentgenol 2008;190:214-8.   Back to cited text no. 7  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]  
8.Bassett LW. Imaging of breast masses. Radiol Clin North Am 2000;38:669-91.  Back to cited text no. 8  [PUBMED]    
9.Butler RS, Venta LA, Wiley EL, Ellis RL, Dempsey PJ, Rubin E. Sonographic evaluation of infiltrating lobular carcinoma. AJR Am J Roentgenol 1999;172:325-30.  Back to cited text no. 9  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]  

Correspondence Address:
Geeta Shah
Advanced Radiology Centre (ARC) 4-A, Royal Sands, Parallel to New Link Road, Behind Infinity Mall, Andheri-West, Mumbai-400 053
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0971-3026.63045

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  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7], [Figure 8], [Figure 9], [Figure 10], [Figure 11], [Figure 12], [Figure 13], [Figure 14], [Figure 15], [Figure 16], [Figure 17], [Figure 18], [Figure 19], [Figure 20], [Figure 21], [Figure 22], [Figure 23], [Figure 24]


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