UVA Health: Common vaccine side effect could skew mammogram screenings

It suggests women get a mammogram before the vaccine, or 4 to 6 weeks after the second dose.
It suggests women get a mammogram before the vaccine, or 4 to 6 weeks after the second dose.(N/A)
Updated: Feb. 24, 2021 at 5:35 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - UVA Health System is trying to get the word out about a common side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine that could skew mammogram results.

For those who get the COVID-19 vaccine, it is typical to end up with enlarged lymph nodes for some time, especially in the armpit. This can also be a sign of breast cancer on a mammogram.

UVA Health is now asking women to schedule their scans carefully.

“If a woman has recently had one of these shots and then she has a mammogram, we may see enlarged lymph nodes,” Dr. Carrie Rochman said. “We may not be able to tell if it’s because she has breast cancer or if it’s because of the vaccine.”

Dr. Carrie Rochman is a breast-imaging expert at UVA’s Breast Care Center and the UVA Cancer Center. She, along with other breast health professionals, are trying to get the word out.

“We’re telling women, if they need a screening mammogram, to come in either before your first Covid vaccine, or four to six weeks after your second shot,” she said.

Dr. Rochman says this guidance should only apply to women coming in for a routine check up. Those with more serious concerns should still come in.

“If a woman has a problem, or if she has a symptom of breast cancer, or if she has a known breast cancer, or if she’s had recent imaging that was abnormal, don’t delay care,” she said. “Come in for that and don’t wait, you can be seen regardless of whether or not you’ve had the vaccine.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is not the only shot that triggers enlarged lymph nodes.

“It’s a common thing, we see it every year when women get the flu vaccine,” Dr. Rochman said. “What we’re seeing though with the COVID vaccine is that the enlarged lymph nodes are a little bit more pronounced than just with a typical flu vaccination.”

Dr. Rochman says mammogram screenings are still very important and should not take a back seat.

“With breast cancer, we always have the best chance of cure when we catch something at it’s earliest most treatable stages,” she said. “It’s been almost a year that we’ve been in the pandemic and we’ve seen some women that haven’t returned at all for screening.”

If you’re a woman in need of a mammogram and do not know whether to come in or not, Dr. Rochman suggests calling your provider and telling them about your specific situation to get further guidance.

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