Doctors are finding that side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine can interfere with mammogram results. Women who get the vaccine may experience swelling in the lymph nodes of the armpit as their immune system responds to the shot.
“It’s not uncommon to get enlarged lymph nodes after a vaccine, but we’re seeing it much more frequently with the COVID-19 vaccine than other vaccines,” says Dr. Cynthia A. Litwer, the chief of breast imaging at Cedars-Sinai.
Dr. Litwer says that if women get a mammogram too soon after they’re vaccinated, swelling of the lymph nodes can cause misleading breast exam test results. Thus, women are being warned not to schedule the two procedures too close together.
“When we see enlarged lymph nodes we do get concerned because it can be a sign of breast cancer. It can be a sign of cancer elsewhere in the body that has spread to the lymph nodes.”
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Women with abnormal mammograms have to return for more tests, which can create a lot of worry in patients.
To avoid that unnecessary fear, the Society of Breast Imaging is warning women to schedule their mammogram before they’re vaccinated. If that’s not possible, women should wait at least four weeks after the vaccination to get their annual mammogram. That way, any lymph node swelling that can appear as a consequence of the COVID-19 vaccine should be gone.
“This does not apply at all to patients who are symptomatic,” says Dr. Litwer. “If you have swelling in your armpit, if you’re having pain in the armpit, if you have a palpable abnormality in the breast or any other symptom in the breast, skin changes or discharge or anything like that, don’t delay your doctor’s visit. Come in for your exam.”