The University of Kentucky Public Relations & Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. “This week's column is by Drs. Jennifer Wang, Wendi Owen and Margaret Szabunio, radiologists with the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center’s Comprehensive Breast Care Center.”
LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 15, 2021) — As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to roll out across the country, some women who get mammograms shortly after receiving the vaccine are showing lymph node swelling on their scans.
Swollen lymph nodes showing up in a mammogram would normally be a concern, but it’s also a sign of the immune system working. The COVID-19 vaccine is designed to trigger the immune system to create antibodies against the novel coronavirus, and swollen lymph nodes is a common side effect of receiving the vaccine. Here’s what you need to know.
Should I delay getting my vaccine or my mammogram if they are scheduled close together?
While vaccine access is increasing, there are still millions of Americans who need to receive it. Getting an appointment can be difficult, even if you are a member of the current vaccine rollout phase. If you receive a vaccine invitation, take it!
If you are already booked for a screening mammogram before your first COVID-19 vaccine dose, you have nothing to worry about. If you have a mammogram scheduled between doses or within 4-6 weeks after your second dose, we recommend keeping your schedule.
If you have not scheduled your mammogram and you are scheduled for the COVID-19 vaccine, we advise planning your mammogram at least 4-6 weeks following your final dose.
However, if you have a concern about your breasts (a new lump, breast pain, or nipple discharge), see a physician quickly regardless of your vaccine status. If a mammogram or ultrasound is recommended, get it without delay – breast cancer can grow quickly.
Do mammograms hurt more right after the vaccine?
Some patients have been experiencing lateral breast tenderness after their vaccine. However, we have not had complaints from patients that the tenderness has made their mammogram anymore uncomfortable than before.
If swollen lymph nodes show up on my mammogram, what happens next?
You will likely be called back for additional imaging studies (like an ultrasound). Let the radiologist or mammogram technologists know when you received the vaccine and in which arm. This helps the radiologist make the best decision about your care.
If a swollen lymph node is in the same arm you got the vaccine, it’s likely reactive and should resolve in a few weeks. Short-term follow-up imaging (4-12 weeks) will probably be recommended to make sure it returns to normal.
However, enlarged lymph nodes with no known cause may need to be biopsied, where cells are taken from the lymph node via needle in order to rule out cancer.
Is my mammogram still accurate if I receive it after the vaccine?
Even if swollen lymph nodes are detected, this should not affect the accuracy of the rest of your mammogram. Your information about receiving the vaccine is extremely important. It will help your radiologist manage any swollen lymph nodes that may show on your mammogram.
The COVID-19 vaccine is new to all of us. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your radiologist if you have questions about your mammogram after receiving the vaccine.
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