The aim of this review was to summarise the diagnostic performance of ultrasonography as an adjunct to mammography in the detection of breast cancer and to identify clinical indications. A systematic review was performed of all publications in MEDLINE and EMBASE between 1990 and 2000 on the role of ultrasonography as an adjunct to mammography. 22 studies were included, showing a large variety of indications for ultrasonography and variations in the diagnostic performance of mammography and ultrasonography. There were six studies comparing a combined diagnosis of mammography and ultrasonography together with mammography alone, of which three studies had an increased sensitivity at the cost of a lower specificity. The methods of selecting the study population and interpretation of ultrasonography significantly influenced the diagnostic performance of mammography and ultrasonography relative to each other (P=0.003, P=0.03, respectively). Based on the studies reviewed, little evidence-based support was found to confirm the well recognised value of ultrasonography as an adjunct to mammography in the detection of breast cancer in clinical practice. Furthermore, no clinical indications for additional ultrasonography could be defined. The heterogeneity in the diagnostic performance in these studies may be explained by the methods of patient selection and ultrasonography interpretation, as well as by their poor quality.