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When to Schedule a Mammogram Screening After Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

Not sure if you can get a mammogram screening after your COVID-19 vaccine? Here’s what to know.

A mammogram is a non-invasive screening that uses X-ray imaging to take a picture of the breast and identify early signs of breast cancer, including lumps. Recently, some individuals who received the COVID-19 vaccine reported enlarged lymph nodes as a side effect. Unfortunately, the presence of enlarged lymph nodes could affect the accuracy of breast cancer screenings.

To learn more about whether or not patients should delay their mammogram screenings until after their COVID-19 vaccines, we spoke with Dr. Kristin Brill, surgeon and enterprise director of breast oncology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

The Dangers of Delayed Mammogram Screenings

When it comes to scheduling your mammogram around your COVID-19 vaccine, the best course of action is to make a plan with your healthcare team.

“We’re concerned that patients who delay their mammograms might not come back for a screening in a timely manner, which means symptoms that may have been caught early could worsen before we find them,” says Dr. Brill. “For that reason, we are not asking patients to reschedule their mammogram appointments. Instead, we ask that they alert us before their appointments if they have had the vaccine.”

The Link Between Enlarged Lymph Nodes and COVID-19 Vaccines

Enlarged lymph nodes are not new to the world of vaccines. If you’re having a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccine, know that enlarged lymph nodes are part of the journey to build immunity.

“The purpose of a vaccine is to trigger the immune system. And as part of that, the lymph nodes in the body swell and respond to the vaccine to produce the cells that create immunity to the virus,” says Dr. Brill. “But in terms of how this interferes with the results of a mammogram, Jefferson’s team of radiologists are comfortable looking at enlarged lymph nodes because what we are looking for in a mammogram are lymph nodes that are not physiologically normal.”

According to Dr. Brill, enlarged lymph nodes can be caused by a variety of things, such as allergies, the flu, or even major dental procedures. “When we evaluate lymph nodes, we aren’t just looking at the size. We are looking for other irregularities such as the architecture of the lymph node and whether the cortex is thickened or not,” says Dr. Brill.

It is important to note that lymph node reactions do not vary by brand of vaccine, but depend on the individual.

How to Approach Breast Health During COVID-19

For Dr. Brill, it is imperative to accomplish both getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and coming in for a mammogram screening.

“You should not and do not have to compromise your screening care because of the COVID-19 vaccine. We can navigate and manage swollen lymph nodes if we see them in screening,” says Dr. Brill. “It may take a little extra work, such as a follow-up or phone call soon after a mammogram, but you do not have to put off vaccination because of imaging or vice versa. You don’t have to prioritize one over the other—you can do both.”

Mammogram screenings are the simplest and most effective tool for discovering breast cancer early. Mammograms do not cure cancer, but if the cancer is caught early, treatment can help make the severity more manageable.

For more information on mammogram screenings at Jefferson Health or to book an appointment, click here.

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COVID-19, From the Experts