Understanding The Ultrasound


Cancer is a terrible and unfortunately all too common disease that will strike one in every three people. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 1.5 million new cases of  cancer will be diagnosed this year alone in the United States. It is one of medicine’s greatest challenges to accurately detect and treat this devastating disease. The latest and most advanced weapon in this fight has been the development of the PET/CT. This machine has changed the way we are able to not only detect cancer early, but with it we can follow the progression of cancer, and monitor the success of any prescribed therapy.

Q) What is the advantage of ultrasound?
A) The big advantage is the ultrasound uses no radiation to create images. This is why it is safe to use on pregnant women and their unborn children. The test is painless and noninvasive (no needles or injections). Ultra-sound scanning gives a clear picture of soft tissues that do not show up well on x-ray images.

Q) Why is gel applied during the test?
A) A clear water-based gel is applied to the area of the body being studied to help the transducer make secure contact with the body. This eliminates air pockets between the machine and the skin that can block the sound waves from passing into your body. Without the gel, images are not as clear and artifacts can form.

Q) What is a pelvic ultrasound?
A) As stated earlier, the ultrasound is the first line test in examining the unborn child. In addition to that, the ultrasound can be used to detect disease in women with pelvic pain and abnormal bleeding. The ultrasound can evaluate the uterus and ovaries to detect fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometrial polyps, and various types of cancer.

Occasionally, a more detailed evaluation is necessary by placing a special transducer within the patient’s vagina. This is referred to as a transvaginal ultrasound. Transvaginal ultrasound isperformed very much like a gynecologic exam. A protective cover is placed over the transducer, lubricated with a small amount of gel, and then inserted two or three inches into the vagina. This procedure is typically not uncomfortable.

Q) What about blood vessels?
The ultrasound has a function called Doppler Ultrasound allowing the evaluation of veins and arteries. The most common reason for a venous ultrasound exam is to search for blood clots, especially in the veins of the leg. This condition is often referred to as deep vein thrombosis or DVT. These clots can dislodge and travel into the lungs, where they can cause a dangerous condition called pulmonary embolism. If the thrombus in the leg is found early enough, treatment can be started to dissolve the clot and prevent it from passing to the lung.

The ultrasound can also evaluate arteries, especially carotid arteries (located in the neck). Plaque can form in the carotid arteries, narrowing the vessels. This is called stenosis of the carotid artery, a condition that substantially increases the risk of a stroke. The major goal of carotid ultrasound is to screen patients for this type of blockage. If a significant narrowing is detected, early medical or surgical life saving treatment may be initiated.

Q) Why is ultrasound used in the breast?
A) Breast ultrasound is used to help diagnose breast abnormalities detected by a physician during a physical exam (such as a palpable lump). Breast ultrasound is also used in conjunction with mammography to detect and characterize potential abnormalities.

Ultrasound imaging can help to determine if an abnormality is solid (which may be a non-cancerous lump of tissue or a cancerous tumor) or fluid-filled (such as a benign cyst) or a combination of both. The Doppler Ultrasound can be used to assess blood supply in suspicious breast lesions.

Q) What are the limitations of ultrasound?
Ultrasound waves are disrupted by air or gas; therefore ultrasound is not an ideal imaging technique for air-filled bowel or organs obscured by the bowel. Ultrasound has difficulty penetrating bone and, therefore, can only see the outer surface of bony structures and not what lies within. Also, large patients are more difficult to image by ultrasound because greater amounts of tissue attenuates (weakens) the sound waves as they pass deeper into the body.

At Toms River X-ray, CT, and MRI Center, our ultrasound machines are the most state of the art available with the latest in computer technology and the most powerful transducers on the market. These allow us to create the clearest possible pictures to more accurately detect and diagnose disease.