A Mammogram vs An Ultrasound: Difference and Comparison

A mammogram and an ultrasound are used to produce images of the breasts of women to diagnose a condition. Mostly, they are used to detect any signs of cancer or the formation of lumps in the breasts.

Both procedures are used for the same thing, but the process differs very much. The differences between the two are mentioned below in this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. A mammogram is an X-ray procedure that detects breast cancer by imaging the breast tissue.
  2. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of breast tissue and can help detect cysts, lumps, or other abnormalities.
  3. Mammograms are recommended for women over 40, while ultrasounds are recommended for women under 30 or pregnant women.

A Mammogram vs An Ultrasound

The difference between a mammogram and an ultrasound is that a mammogram is the image of the breasts produced on an X-ray film by using low-dose X-rays. On the other hand, ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to produce breast images. Also, in mammography, there is exposure to radiation, while there is no exposure to radiation in an ultrasound.

A Mammogram vs An Ultrasound

A mammogram is a screening tool to detect early signs of breast cancer. It detects early tumours as well as small tumours. Women of the age between 50 to 74 are recommended to have a mammography test every two years.

An ultrasound is done to detect breast cancer or to monitor a child in the mother’s womb. Sometimes it is also used in operation theatres by surgeons for guidance during certain procedures.

Ultrasound has a higher rate of false results for breast cancer screening as it can miss early signs of a tumour.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonA MammogramAn Ultrasound
What is it?A process in which low-energy x rays are used to produce breast images.A process in which high-frequency sound waves are used to produce images of the internal body.
PurposeThe purpose is to detect tumors and early signs of cancer.The purpose is to detect lesions in women and to monitor an unborn child.
Radiation ExposureThere is a risk of radiation exposure.There is no risk of radiation exposure.
AccuracyIt is more accurate than an ultrasound. The false-negative rate is 10%.It has a higher rate of false positives. Its accuracy is less than a mammogram.
MicrocalcificationsIt detects micro-calcifications.It cannot detect micro-calcifications.

What is a Mammogram?

A mammogram is an image of the breasts taken through the process called mammography or mammography. In this process, low-energy X-rays are used to produce the image of breasts for examining them, for diagnosis, and screening.

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It is used to detect small tumours, early signs of cancer, distortions, asymmetry of breasts, calcifications, etc.

A mammogram is not safe to use with pregnant women as there is a risk of radiation exposure. However, it is the best screening tool for breast cancer. It detects even the small signs of cancer and reduces death risk.

Women of age above 50 are advised to have a mammography every two years.

Mammograms are more accurate and do not depend on the operator. The breast rests on a plate, and another plate is used at the top of the breasts, four x-ray images are taken, two of each breast, one from the front and the other from the side.

The false-negative rate of a mammogram is at least 10%. And mammography shouldn’t be performed frequently on patients who are undergoing breast surgery.

In 1913, a German surgeon first used X-rays to take images of the breasts and observe the micro-calcifications in them.


What is an Ultrasound?

Ultrasound is another process to produce breast images and create pictures of the inside of the body. An ultrasound is not a screening tool for breast cancer, and a physician wants an ultrasound mostly when the mammogram produces unusual results.

An ultrasound is used to detect lesions in women, find a source of disease, monitor an unborn child, guide the surgeon during a procedure, etc. There is no risk of exposure to radiation in ultrasound, so it is safe to use on pregnant women.

A transducer is used, which sends sound waves that bounce back through the tissues, travel back to the transducer, and create an image. A general-purpose transducer or a specialized transducer, anyone can be used according to the need.

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It is an easy-to-use and painless procedure. And it is accessible all over the world. Indeed, it is cheaper than mammography.

The disadvantage of ultrasound is that it is less adept at detecting calcifications, which means it cannot detect early signs of tumours. And also, the accuracy of an ultrasound depends on the skill of the operator unless it is automated.

Since the accuracy can be compromised, there is a high rate of false positives. Also, sometimes additional procedures are required along with ultrasound for interpretation.


Main Differences Between A Mammogram And An Ultrasound

  1. Low-dose X-rays are used for a mammogram, while high-frequency sound waves are used for an ultrasound.
  2. Mammograms are more accurate in detecting tumours than ultrasound. Breast ultrasound can miss the signs of an early tumour.
  3. Mammograms are not safe for pregnant women as there is exposure to radiation during mammography. Ultrasound is safer as there is no exposure to radiation.
  4. The accuracy does not depend on the operator while a mammogram is taken. On the other hand, the ultrasound’s accuracy depends on the operator’s skill.
  5. Mammography is less accessible in many parts of the world, while ultrasound is more accessible around the world.
  6. A mammogram is expensive as compared to an ultrasound.
Difference Between A Mammogram And An Ultrasound
  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.7863/jum.2007.26.6.807
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0169260711001222
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0079610706000812
  4. https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.bioeng.6.040803.140126

Last Updated : 20 July, 2023

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6 thoughts on “A Mammogram vs An Ultrasound: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The article did an excellent job explaining the differences between mammograms and ultrasounds. It is very informative and well-researched.

  2. While mammography is a reliable method, the potential for false-negatives and false-positives raises concerns. The article effectively highlighted these points.

  3. The article raises essential points about the accuracy and accessibility of mammograms and ultrasounds, providing critical considerations for healthcare providers and patients alike.

  4. The comparative analysis provided a clear understanding of the benefits and limitations of both mammograms and ultrasounds. However, it would be interesting to explore the potential risks in more detail.

  5. The article’s in-depth insights into the mechanisms of mammograms and ultrasounds offer a notable contribution to current medical literature.

  6. The comprehensiveness of the research presented is impeccable. Still, I would argue that the cost comparison between mammograms and ultrasounds could be further elaborated.


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