Routine screening mammograms are an important part of overall preventive care for women – they can help detect breast cancer early, when it’s most treatable. It’s also important for overall health to get the COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available. So what’s the connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and breast cancer screening that women should be aware of? Dr. Rosalinn Santa Cruz, a radiologist who specializes in breast disease and breast cancer, explains:
COVID-19 vaccine side effects
When you get the COVID-19 vaccine, side effects are a normal, expected response as your body starts making antibodies and typically go away in a few days.
One side effect, swollen lymph nodes, can feel like a new lump or tenderness under your armpit or on your neck. This might make you worry that you’ve found cancer. While a new lump in your armpit can be a sign of breast cancer, it’s much more likely that you’re experiencing a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Not everyone will have this side effect, and if you do, the swelling in your lymph nodes is more likely to appear on the same side of the body where you got the shot.
Guidance on when to get your mammogram
If you’ve already scheduled your mammogram, the Society of Breast Imaging recommends you consider rescheduling your screening mammogram to be before your COVID-19 vaccine appointment or at least 4 weeks after the final dose of your vaccine to reduce the chance that your mammogram will show swollen lymph nodes from vaccine side effects. But, if you’re already overdue for your mammogram and can’t reschedule within the next few months, keep your appointment.
If you’re having changes in your breast or other breast symptoms, contact your health care provider regardless if you have a mammogram appointment scheduled. Learn more about the Society of Breast Imaging recommendations.
What to tell your technologist
On the day of your mammogram, tell your technologist if you have received the COVID-19 vaccine – tell her when you received the vaccine, which dose and which arm you got the shot in.
What if my mammogram shows swollen lymph nodes?
Radiologists look at changes to your body that might indicate breast cancer. Since one rare sign of breast cancer is swollen lymph nodes under one arm, your breast radiologist might recommend you return for a follow up exam to double check that your lymph nodes have returned to their normal size.
“Both mammograms and the COVID-19 vaccine are very important to ensure that you stay healthy. Regular screening mammograms ensure that breast cancer can be detected as early as possible and help to save lives,” said Dr. Santa Cruz. “Your need for health care doesn’t take a break, even during a pandemic. Don’t delay your screenings. We’ve taken appropriate measures to keep our patients safe during their routine care.”
Lake Health offers digital and 3D mammography services at several convenient sites. Call Lake Health’s Centralized Scheduling Department at 866-652-5253 to schedule your mammogram appointment. A physician’s order is required.