Techniques for improving ultrasound visualization of biopsy markers in axillary lymph nodes

Christine Lee, Chenyun Zhou, Brenda Hyde, Pengfei Song, Nicholas Hangiandreou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Biopsy markers are often placed into biopsy-proven metastatic axillary lymph nodes to ensure later accurate node excision. Ultrasound is the preferred imaging modality in the axilla. However, sonographic identification of biopsy markers after neoadjuvant therapy can be challenging. This is due to poor conspicuity relative to surrounding parenchymal interfaces, treatment-related alteration of malignant morphology during neoadjuvant chemotherapy, or extrusion of the marker from the target. To the authors' knowledge, the literature provides no recommendations for ultrasound scanning parameters that improve the detection of biopsy markers. The purpose of this manuscript is 3-fold: (1) To determine scanning parameters that improve sonographic conspicuity of biopsy markers in a phantom and cadaver model; (2) to implement these scanning parameters in the clinical setting; and (3) to provide strategies that might increase the likelihood of successful ultrasound detection of biopsy markers in breast imaging practices. Materials and Methods: An ex vivo study was performed using a phantom designed to simulate the heterogeneity of normal mammary or axillary soft tissues. A selection of available biopsy markers was deployed into this phantom and ultrasound (GE LOGIQ E9) was performed. Scanning parameters were adjusted to optimize marker conspicuity. For the cadaver study, the biopsy markers were deployed using ultrasound guidance into axillary lymph nodes of a female cadaver. Adjustments in transducer frequency, dynamic range, cross-beam (spatial compound imaging), beam steering, speckle reduction imaging, harmonic imaging, colorization, and speed of sound were evaluated. Settings that improved marker detection were used clinically for a year. Results: Sonographic scanning settings that improved biopsy marker conspicuity included increasing transducer frequency, decreasing dynamic range, setting cross-beam to medium hybrid, turning on beam steering, and setting speckle reduction imaging in the mid-range. There was no appreciable improvement with harmonic imaging, colorization, or speed of sound. Conclusion: On a currently available clinical ultrasound scanning system, ultrasound scanning parameters can be adjusted to improve the conspicuity of biopsy markers. Overall, optimization requires a balance between techniques that clinically increase contrast (dynamic range, harmonic imaging, and steering) and those that minimize graininess (spatial compound imaging, speckle reduction imaging, and steering). Additional scanning and procedural strategies have been provided to improve the confidence of sonographic detection of biopsy markers closely associated with the intended target.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number21
JournalJournal of Clinical Imaging Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Axillary lymph node
  • Biopsy clip or marker
  • Breast cancer
  • Localization
  • Ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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