How Your COVID Vaccination Could Affect Your Mammogram Reading

There’s been a national decline in cancer screenings due to COVID-19, and as vaccines are rolled out, the hope is that people will get caught up on their regular check-ups. Radiologists have noticed that mammogram imaging can occasionally be affected by a recent COVID-19 vaccination, highlighting the importance of clear communication between patients and care providers to prevent false positive results.

The COVID-19 vaccine can cause temporary swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpit. It’s a very normal response that actually signifies that your immune system is responding to the vaccine as intended.

[READ: What Is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?]

However, the enlarged lymph nodes could interfere with the interpretation of a screening mammogram, and if your doctor is unaware of your recent vaccination, they may order additional unnecessary imaging, such as a focused ultrasound evaluation of the area.

In our experience with vaccinated patients at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center — Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC — James), the risk of a false positive from a screening mammogram is very low if your radiologist knows about the recent vaccination and can account for your body’s reaction to it. You can certainly get the vaccine as soon as it’s available to you and also receive a timely and accurate mammogram.

The Society of Breast Imaging recently released guidelines that suggest women tell their providers about recent vaccination and consider scheduling their screening mammogram around their COVID-19 vaccination. However, it’s important that you don’t delay either your cancer screening or the vaccine, as both are vital to your health.

If you receive the vaccine within six weeks of your scheduled screening mammogram, inform your care provider to make sure you’ll have the most accurate screening mammogram results.

[See: Breast Cancer Nutrition Myths.]

Mammograms are a proven tool for detecting breast cancer early and improving survival rates. Oncologists across the country worry about a surge in advanced stage cancer diagnoses after many Americans had to forgo regular screenings during the pandemic. It’s a troubling trend that may unfortunately result in poorer treatment outcomes from delayed diagnosis and care.

Although the risk of a false positive screening mammogram result after COVID-19 vaccination is low, if you’re still concerned about this possibility of false positive results, you can schedule your mammogram four to six weeks after vaccine administration, at which time any possible lymph node swelling should have subsided.

The current National Comprehensive Cancer Network and American College of Radiology guidelines recommend women undergo a screening mammogram every year over the age of 40 and continue mammographic screening as long as they are in good health. Screening mammography under age 40 may occur for women who are at increased risk for breast cancer.

Women with breast problems, such as a breast lump, should certainly not delay seeking breast imaging or care because of COVID-19 vaccinations and should immediately make an appointment with their provider for evaluation.

[Read: Questions to Ask Your Doctor About the COVID-19 Vaccine.]

The Food and Drug Administration-approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and will be essential tools to help us stop the spread, save lives and move toward recovery. Cancer care has certainly been adversely impacted by the pandemic, and catching up on any missed screenings is an important step toward a healthier future.

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