COVID-19 vaccines and mammograms: Should you wait?

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Screening mammograms and COVID-19 vaccines are both really important to your health. But recent reports about the vaccine potentially causing “false positives” on mammograms have certainly created confusion and stress over whether to continue delaying that annual screening.

“If you, like many women, cancelled your annual mammogram last year because of COVID, it’s really important that you make it a priority to get that screening as soon as possible,” says Dr. Kimberley Clark-Paul, a breast surgeon at McLaren Port Huron. “If you’re over 40 and you haven’t had a mammogram in a year, it’s really important not to continue to delay — Mammography is the best way to detect breast cancer at the earliest stages, which is critical to ensuring the best treatment and outcomes.”

But getting a COVID-19 vaccine could result in swollen lymph nodes under the arm the injection was given, creating a concern that those swollen lymph nodes might show up on a mammogram and potentially result in worry and additional tests.

The risk of a COVID-19 vaccine creating a ‘false positive’ appears to be highest within four weeks of getting a COVID-19 vaccine. “You can minimize this by scheduling your mammogram before you’re vaccinated, or four to six weeks after your final vaccine dose,” says Dr. Clark-Paul.

Clinicians are aware of these issues and have added screening questions to the mammography appointment. “When we screen patients before their mammogram, we’re asking if they recently had a COVID-19 vaccine, and in which arm,” says Dana Bishop, a nurse and supervisor at the Demashkieh Women’s Wellness Place at McLaren Port Huron. “With that information, the radiologists are able to coordinate the appropriate follow-up with recommendations from the Society of Breast Imaging.”

We can’t emphasize it enough: Schedule your mammogram appointment now, even if it’s weeks after your second dose. “It’s really easy to continue delaying the first step — making the appointment,” says Dr. Clark-Paul. “Everyone’s busy. There’s always something else to do. But the peace of mind that comes with getting your mammogram on the calendar is priceless.”

Importantly though, if you are scheduling a mammogram because of a specific concern or area, talk with your physician before delaying. “A mammogram is the best way to find breast cancer when it’s early stage,” says Dr. Clark-Paul.

And at McLaren Port Huron, scheduling your screening mammogram is easier than ever – you can book an appointment online at a time that’s convenient for you.