Published: May 16, 2007
Updated: Aug. 22, 2011
What is ultrasound scanning?
An ultrasound scan uses sound waves, rather than radiation, so it is very safe. Ultrasound scans are used to see the heart, blood vessels, kidney, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, and genital tract. They are also used to examine unborn babies as they grow in the uterus. They may also be used during biopsies or surgeries to locate the tumor to be biopsied or removed.
What are invasive ultrasounds?
Most ultrasound tests are done with the transducer on the skin. However, some ultrasound tests require the transducer to be inserted into the body. These are called invasive ultrasounds.
Some examples of invasive ultrasounds are:
Where is this done?
Most ultrasound studies are done in the Radiology Department, which is on the first floor of Duke University Hospital. There is also a facility at Herndon Road and other locations are planned for the future.
Do I need to have someone drive me home afterward?
Ultrasound studies may take a relatively long time compared to CT or conventional x-rays, but no sedation or medications are needed. Most patients that can drive to Duke for their study can drive home.
Do I need to do anything to get ready for this test?
Ask if you can eat or drink before the ultrasound. Most abdominal ultrasound studies are better if a patient has had nothing to eat for at least four to six hours. An overnight fast is preferred.
Also ask if it is okay for you to urinate before the test. Some ultrasound tests rely on the bladder being full to better see the structures in the pelvis.
What happens during the procedure?
Clothing must be removed from the part of the body being scanned. A special gel is placed on the skin and the tip of the transducer to improve the quality of the sound waves. The gel may feel cold.
The doctor or specialized ultrasound technologist will move the transducer over the area to be examined. The pictures show up on the computer screen. You may be asked to change position for clearer pictures. Once the doctor or technologist is satisfied with the pictures taken, the test is done and the gel is wiped off.
Is this test painful?
Not usually, though sometimes it is necessary for the operator to push into the abdomen and for some patients this is uncomfortable. Transesophageal, transrectal, and transvaginal ultrasounds may not be very comfortable, but with lubrication and occasionally some sedation, they are very bearable.
How long does it take?
The test may take just a few minutes or as long as an hour, depending on the area(s) to be scanned.
What are the risks with this procedure?
There are no known risks to an ultrasound examination.
How will I get the results of this test?
If your doctor is performing the scan, the information will be available immediately. If the scan is being done by a technologist, your doctor will often get preliminary results within a day or so, but final results will take longer. Make arrangements to get the results from your doctor.
This article is intended as a resource for patients receiving their cancer care at Duke University Hospital or Duke Clinic. It is not intended to substitute for medical advice from your health care team. If your doctor’s instructions differ from the information in this article, please talk with your doctor before making any changes.
Source: Duke Cancer Patient Education Program / Patient & Family Education Committee 3-07