COVID-19 Vaccines and Mammograms: What Women Need to Know
February 19, 2021
As more and more women become eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, some important information has emerged about scheduling your mammogram. That may sound strange, so let me explain.
COVID-19 Vaccines and Immune Response
The COVID-19 vaccines can cause temporary inflammation and swollen lymph nodes in the armpit on the side where the vaccine is injected. And that is a good thing! It is the body’s natural response and means your immune system is doing its job to provide protection from the coronavirus.
Swollen Lymph Nodes and Mammograms
The one down side is that the enlarged lymph nodes can show up on a mammogram, leading to a false positive or confusing result. Women would need to return for a follow-up mammogram and ultrasound, and could become unnecessarily alarmed about a potential breast cancer diagnosis. If the lymph node is still abnormal at the diagnostic evaluation, follow up would be recommend in 12 weeks. The extra imaging and follow up can lead to unnecessary testing, anxiety and costs.
Scheduling Your Mammogram
Because of this, unless you are experiencing symptoms, such as a suspicious lump, we recommend you schedule your screening mammogram either:
- Before receiving your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or
- 4 weeks after your second (final) dose
Always talk with your doctor about when to begin mammogram screenings and how often to repeat them. For women at average risk of breast cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends:
- Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.
- Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
- Women ages 55 or older may switch to mammograms every two years, or have the choice to continue yearly screening.
Mammography is the best breast cancer screening tool available. Mammograms save lives and can be conveniently scheduled online. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is also important. Don’t delay when it is your turn to receive the vaccine. Just keep in mind appropriate scheduling to avoid unnecessary anxiety and testing.
Nitin K. Tanna, MD
Nitin K. Tanna, MD, is a radiologist at Lancaster Radiology Associates and serves as chief of mammography and breast imaging services at Lancaster General Health. A graduate of the University of Rochester and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Dr. Tanna is a frequent community speaker on breast imaging and mammography, and has authored several articles on breast screening.