Ultrasound scan

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An ultrasound scan helps doctors diagnose and find out information about some types of lymphoma.

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What is an ultrasound scan?

An ultrasound scan makes pictures of the inside of your body. Ultrasound scans use sound waves. The sound waves come out of an instrument called a ‘probe’ and travel through your body. They are very high-frequency (fast-travelling) so you cannot hear them. The waves bounce off of your tissues and organs. The echoes create a picture of the inside of your body.

black and white image of an ultrasound scan

Ultrasound image showing lymph nodes (glands) in the neck.

Ultrasound is used in people with lymphoma to:

  • examine the neck, the organs in the abdomen (stomach) or the pelvis. It might also be used to examine other sites (areas) of swelling such as under the armpits or in the groin area.
  • help find the best place to biopsy a lymph node (gland) or other swelling (ultrasound-guided biopsy).
  • help find the best position for putting in a central line (thin tube put into a vein to give you drugs and to take blood samples).

In a small number of people affected by lymphoma who require drainage of fluid, ultrasound may be used to guide this process.

What is the process for having an ultrasound scan?

Ultrasound scans are usually done as an outpatient procedure, which means that you don’t have to stay in hospital overnight.

Ultrasound scans take around 15 minutes and are not painful.

How do I prepare for an ultrasound scan?

You should be given information about how to prepare for the scan.

You should be told in advance if you need to have a full or an empty bladder for the scan. You may also be advised not to eat anything for a few hours beforehand.

What happens during the procedure?

The procedure depends on which type of ultrasound scan you have:

External ultrasound scan

You might have an external ultrasound scan to examine lumps that are palpable (can be felt) in areas such as your:

  • abdomen (if you have abdominal pain)
  • arms
  • armpit
  • groin
  • legs
  • neck.

For an external ultrasound scan, you lie on your back on a couch.

A radiographer or a sonographer (specialists in medical imagery and diagnostics) rubs gel onto the skin over the part of your body that they want to examine. They then gently press a hand-held probe (which looks a bit like a microphone) onto your skin. They move it around to make a picture on a computer screen. This type of ultrasound scan takes about 15 minutes.

Internal ultrasound scan

Internal ultrasound scans are not frequently used in lymphoma.

An internal ultrasound uses a tiny camera to look at your organs. The camera is attached either to a probe or to an endoscope (flexible tube). This is passed into an opening in your body (usually your mouth).

You might be given a sedative (relaxant) to make the procedure easier and more comfortable.

This type of ultrasound takes a bit longer.

What happens after the procedure?

You can go straight home after your scan, though you won’t be able to drive if you have had a sedative.

Ultrasound scans do not use radiation. There are no precautions you need to take afterwards.

Frequently asked questions about ultrasound scans

Do I need to fast (not eat or drink) on the day of the scan?

You may be advised not to eat for a few hours before your scan.

Is it OK to take prescription medication before the scan?

It is generally safe to continue taking any prescription medication on the day of your appointment. Check with hospital staff, though, and follow their advice.

Will I be closed in during the scan?

You will not be closed in during the scan – you will lie down on a couch.

If you feel anxious about having your scan, speak to your medical team.

When will I get the results?

Your doctor usually gets the results from the hospital within a few days and will discuss them with you. Staff in the scanning department won’t be able to give you your scan results while you are at the hospital.

Are ultrasound scans safe?

Ultrasound scans are very safe. They do not use any radiation.

Can I have an ultrasound scan if I am pregnant or breastfeeding?

There are no known risks to an unborn baby from an ultrasound scan. Breastfeeding is also considered to be safe after an ultrasound scan.

What if I feel anxious about having the scan?

For some people, waiting for test results can be a particularly anxious time. Although the wait might feel long, it is important that doctors collect all of the information they need in order to plan the best treatment for you.

Talk to the staff in the scanning department at your hospital if you are worried about having your scan. They can answer any questions you have and may be able to suggest ways of coping with your anxiety.

Acknowledgements

With thanks to Dr Bhupinder Sharma, Radiology Consultant, The Royal Marsden Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, for reviewing this information.

We would also like to thank the members of our Reader Panel who gave their time to review this information.

With thanks The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust for the ultrasound scan image that appears on the page.

Sources used

Chow C and Gideon K. Sedating drugs and breastfeeding. Canadian family physician. 2015, 61: 241–243. Available at: bit.ly/2hheONq (accessed September 2017).

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2016. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: diagnosis and management. Available at: bit.ly/2Ag6q4M (accessed October 2017).

NHS Choices, 2016. Ultrasound. Available at: bit.ly/2m0ymXV (accessed September 2017).

American Cancer Society, 2015. Available at: bit.ly/2zC6pvr (accessed September 2017).

Content last reviewed: November 2017

Next planned review: November 2020

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