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What is the difference between a mammogram and a breast ultrasound?

Diagnostic breast screening is a medical procedure performed to examine the exact cause of the symptoms like pain, redness, tenderness or lump in the breast tissues. When investigating such problems, the healthcare professional might suggest you follow the imaging tests, which primarily involve the mammogram and breast ultrasound.

Both procedures aid in the early detection and timely treatment of cancer, saving lives. However, you must know the difference between your screening options and risk factors to achieve the same. Nonetheless, it is not deciding the best between the two. It is about choosing the perfect type of care that suits your specific needs and condition. 

Keep on reading to discover the key differences between mammograms and breast ultrasounds.

What is a mammogram?

A mammogram is simply a breast X-ray performed to check the early symptoms of breast cancer. It is an excellent diagnostic tool for women with no signs of breast cancer or known risk factors. It is an effective procedure, especially when it can be cured early.

What is Breast ultrasound?

Mammography is an excellent detecting tool for breast cancer. However, it is unsuitable for detecting cancer in women with dense and fatty breast tissues. In such circumstances, breast ultrasound is performed as a supplementary test for a mammogram and is used to detect small, potentially curable cancer cells.

Who should consider a mammogram?

Mammograms are suitable for every man and woman who have fewer risk factors. The accuracy rate is 84 per cent, which means the procedure can find cancer in women, especially those over 50. 

Who should consider ultrasound?

Women who have dense breast tissues are usually instructed to undergo ultrasound screening. As an additional screening option, breast ultrasound is suitable for sensitive or pregnant women to have an MRI scan or mammogram that uses ionized radiation.

What happens during a mammogram?

The technician will instruct you to undress above the waist and stand straight before the mammogram equipment. Your breast will be positioned on the X-ray machine one at a time, pressing down on the surface using a clear plate. Two clear images will be obtained, one covering the top to the bottom area while the other covers the side-to-side regions, extending to the armpit.

What happens during a breast ultrasound?

Similarly to the mammogram, the technician will instruct you to remove the clothes from the waist and lie on the couch, placing your arm above your head. A gel will be applied to the breast to get a clear image. The technician will move the handheld transducer over the breast to determine the in-depth tissues. Armpit scanning is also included in the procedure.

Key differences between Mammogram and Breast Ultrasound

Image quality

In the screening procedure, when the mammogram finds any suspiciousness in the breast tissues, the diagnostic procedure will take more images than a simple routine mammogram. The pictures will focus on the affected region and get the calcification image for better evaluation. In breast ultrasound, detecting microcalcification (the tiniest deposition of calcium) is impossible. However, it can show a clear picture of deep breast tissues.

The motive for the screening test

Depending on the circumstances, a mammogram can be used as a screening procedure or diagnosis test. Women who are older than 30 should undergo the procedure once every three years if they have noticed any of the following early symptoms of cancer,

  • Pain in the breast tissues
  • Discharge from the nipples
  • Formation of palpable lumps
  • Changes in the skin near the breast
  • Any more visible changes regarding the size and shape of the breast

Breast ultrasound will not always be part of your breast screening program. But it plays a vital part in certain cases, including.

  • In younger women who have dense breast tissues
  • When women feel a lump formation, that is noticeable but is not detected by using a mammogram.
  • The technician must know the difference between cancerous fluid-filled cysts and non-cancerous masses.

The principle behind the technique

Another big difference between a mammogram and breast cancer is the principle behind the modalities. Mammograms use low-dose radiation to X-ray the breast area, which might affect pregnant women. While ultrasounds function by including sound waves that create an echo and produce a clear image.



  • Comprehensive screening test throughout breast imaging
  • An effective option to detect calcium depositions, an early sign of breast cancer
  • Detect asymmetries and distortion
  • Non-invasive and primary option for early detection
  • Different views from both angles to get a clear view

Breast ultrasound

  • Non-invasive and quick
  • Safe for every woman
  • Painless process
  • Real-time results
  • A distinct view of lump formation 
  • Enable to learn the difference between a cyst and solid masses
  • Does Not use radiation



  • Low-dose radiation exposure
  • Not suitable for detecting abnormalities in dense breast tissues
  • Prolonged waiting period for results
  • Certain risks for false results or overdiagnosis
  • Cannot distinguish between a cyst and solid mass

Breast ultrasound

  • Unable to detect microcalcification
  • Difficult to compare both breasts or with previous test images since the image covers part of the region.
  • Cannot view the axillary lymph nodes


The most suitable test can be decided based on your symptoms and suggestions from the healthcare professional. Below are some factors to consider,

Age – Women under 30 suggest an ultrasound to check the health of their breasts.

Weight and breast density– The image quality might be affected by the weight and size of your breasts. Dense breast tissues cannot be analyzed by mammography. Hence you have to undergo an ultrasound to get a reliable image.

Risk factors – if you have a family history of breast cancer, you are more likely to develop the condition due to inherited genetic mutations of BRCA 1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA 2. Therefore you might need mammograms every year before you are 40. Depending on the design of your breast, an ultrasound might be recommended.

Mammogram Vs Breast Ultrasound – Which is best?

Despite the radiation and comfort, mammograms are highly effective in analyzing the abnormalities in breast tissues. On the other hand, breast ultrasound is a potent diagnostic test, especially when a lump is involved. It is safer for every woman as they use sound waves and reach deeper inside the breast tissues to detect cancer.

Both mammograms and ultrasound possess benefits as imaging tests for detecting breast cancer. The two procedures often complete each other, so choosing one among the others is impossible. Like every other technique, these screening options have their own set of advantages and limitations. 

Final words

The modern world and sedentary lifestyle pose potential risk factors that might induce the onset of cancer and other health ailments, especially in women. However, the screening test should be decided based on the combination of your choices, symptoms and risk factors. Also, remember that a mammogram is an initial and primary test to detect cancer, and no other screening options can replace its place. 
CDN care offers advanced and comprehensive patient screening facilities through world-class screening equipment and a high-standard treatment approach. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the trust of our patients and navigate them in their healthcare journey with utmost care and sensitivity.

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