Ultrasound for Cancer Screening –  Questions and Answers

Ultrasound for Cancer Screening – Questions and Answers

Ultrasound helps doctors look for tumours in certain areas of the body that don’t show up well on x-rays. Doctors often use them to guide a needle during a biopsy. Ultrasounds are usually quick and most don’t require special preparation.

Ultrasound scans are one of the most common medical imaging diagnostic procedures, and it is being used to evaluate the health of organs and tissue as well as monitor the unborn baby.   In the UK you can have your diagnostic ultrasound in the NHS or you can opt for a private ultrasound instead. Read more about what is an ultrasound scan.

What is cancer screening?

Cancer screening is a test that looks for early signs of cancer in people without symptoms to spot cancers at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.
Cancer screening is for people with no symptoms at all. If you have symptoms, don’t wait for a screening invitation – tell your doctor as soon as possible

Which cancers are screened for UK?

Bowel cancer screening is offered to people aged 60-74 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland people aged 50-74 are offered bowel cancer screening.
Breast cancer screening is offered to women, some transgender men and some non-binary people aged 50-70 in the UK.
Cervical screening is offered to women, some transgender men and some non-binary people aged 25-64 in the UK.

What cancer looks like on ultrasound?

The appearances of cancer on ultrasound vary depending on organ. Most commonly appear as solid, vascular masses or complex cysts.

What an ultrasound can detect?

Ultrasound can detect abnormalities related to the visualised organ such as cysts and masses.

Can an ultrasound tell if a lump is cancerous?

Ultrasound can detect suspicious lumps, but it is not possible to be 100% accurate that the lump is cancerous. Other tests such as CT scan or fine-needle aspiration might be necessary to confirm cancer.

Can ultrasound detect tumours in abdomen?

Yes, an abdominal ultrasound can detect abdominal masses.

Does cancer show on ultrasound?

Yes cancer can show on ultrasound, although further investigations might be necessary to confirm the findings as cancerous.

What type of cysts are cancerous?

The majority of the cysts are benign. There are however complex cysts that raise the suspicion of malignancy on ultrasound and further investigations might be necessary to confirm.

How can you tell the difference between a cyst and a tumour?

Tumours are mainly solid and cysts are fluid filled and therefore look different on an ultrasound scan.

How do you tell if a lump is a tumour?

Ultrasound can identify suspicious lumps but can not 100% tell if a lump is a tumour. Further investigations such as CT scan, fine needle aspiration (FNA) or excision biopsy might be necessary depending on where the lump is.

What does thyroid cancer look like on an ultrasound?

A malignant thyroid nodule tends to have ill-defined margins on ultrasound. A fine-needle aspiration will be needed to confirm if the nodule is malignant. 

How do you tell if a lump is a cyst?

Ultrasound imaging can often show whether a lump is hollow, fluid-filled, or a collection of cells. In some cases, a doctor may request a biopsy, which involves removing the lump or cells from it

What is the best scan to detect cancer?

The choice of imaging modality to detect cancer depends on the location of the suspected cancer.

Which is more accurate CT scan or ultrasound in detecting cancer?

The choice of imaging modality to detect cancer depends on the location of the suspected cancer. Most often CT and ultrasound are being used as complementary to each other investigations.

Can you see lymphoma on an ultrasound?

Ultrasound can be used to look at lymph nodes near the surface of the body or to look inside your abdomen for enlarged lymph nodes or organs such as the liver and spleen.

Which is better ultrasound or sonography?

Sonography is a medical imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of internal body structures. Sonography is also known as ultrasound.

Is the lump on my pubic area cancer?

In most cases, a lump in the groin is either a cyst, a hernia, or a swollen lymph node. Cysts often resolve on their own and rarely lead to additional complications. Swollen lymph nodes typically indicate an infection, and the lump will usually disappear once the infection clears up. An ultrasound scan should be able to confirm what the lump is.

What is the difference between CT scan MRI and Ultrasound?

All the 3 types of scan have similar uses, but they produce images in different ways. A CT scan uses X-rays, whereas an MRI scan uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves and Ultrasound is using high-frequency sound waves.

Can cancer be seen in an ultrasound?

Ultrasound images are not as detailed as those from CT or MRI scans. Ultrasound cannot tell whether a tumour is definitely cancer. Its use is also limited in some parts of the body because the sound waves can’t go through air (such as in the lungs) or through bone.

Can stomach cancer be detected by ultrasound?

Ultrasound is not commonly used in the UK to detect abnormalities with the stomach. An abdominal ultrasound scan might be requested to exclude cancers related to adjacent organs such as the liver and pancreas.

Can ultrasound detect testicular cancer?

A testicular ultrasound is often the first test done if the doctor thinks you might have testicular cancer. Even when the ultrasonic appearances are highly suspicious of testicular cancer further investigations will be required before any surgical intervention.

How accurate is ultrasound for testicular cancer?

Ultrasound is very sensitive in detecting testicular cancer.

Can you detect liver cancer from an ultrasound?

Ultrasound is often the first test used to look at the liver. It uses sound waves to create an image on a computer screen. This test can show tumours growing in the liver, which then can be tested for cancer if needed.

Does red on ultrasound mean cancer?

The red and blue colours on an ultrasound screen are associated with blood flow evaluation and does not mean cancer.

Is private ultrasound better in detecting cancer than the one offered by the NHS?

The main advantage of private ultrasound in London against the one offered by the NHS is the waiting time and faster diagnosis means faster treatment. Your private ultrasound scan in London can be performed the same or the next day private, but you might have to wait 6+ weeks for an NHS appointment.

You may also want to read:

Why you should book a private ultrasound scan instead waiting for the NHS during the Covid-19 era

What is a Private Scan?

Yianni Kiromitis

Pg (Cert) Medical Ultrasound (General Imaging), BSc (Hons) Radiography (Imaging) (English and Greek speaker) Yianni Kiromitis is a London based NHS and Private Sonographer with more than 21 years experience in the Healthcare sector. He holds a PgC from South Bank University and has worked for multiple NHS and Private ultrasound providers.