By now, most of us are aware of common Covid-19 vaccine side effects like, fever, chills, fatigue, and generally not feeling great for a day or so. But experts are now highlighting a troubling (but ultimately harmless) reaction that has been showing up on mammograms.
According to the Society of Breast Imaging, these vaccines can cause lymph nodes in armpits to swell. It’s a completely normal reaction from the immune systems and will go away on its own. However, it could also show up on a routine mammogram in the meantime and easily be mistaken as a sign of breast cancer.
With that in mind, SBI is encouraging those making mammogram appointments to either schedule it before getting their first Covid vaccine, or wait until at least four weeks after their second vaccine.
“I am particularly eager to get the word out to all the patients undergoing surveillance after successful prior treatment of cancer,” Dr. Constance D. Lehman, the chief of breast imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, told The New York Times. “I can’t imagine the anxiety of getting the scan and hearing, ‘We found a node that is large. We don’t think it’s cancer but can’t tell.’ Or worse, ‘We think it might be cancer.’”
A woman in Pennsylvania recently shared her story of going through a similar scenario. Heidi Struble told local reporters that she went for a routine mammogram soon after her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. She was understandably shaken when hospital later told her there was an “abnormality” on the results that “made it look like breast cancer on the image.”
Struble was relieved when a second mammogram and biopsy found no signs of cancer, but said she “spent a lot of time in prayer” while waiting on those results. Her doctors confirmed it was likely a reaction from the vaccine causing the false alarm.
Being careful with scheduling around vaccines should help curb any scary situations like Struble’s. That said, the SBI also advises those who have received the vaccine and are long overdue for their regular screening or may have issues with rescheduling to still go through with any appointment already on the books. Just make sure to inform the technician performing the mammogram when the vaccine was given and whether it was the first or second dose.
The same is true for anyone scheduled for a diagnostic mammogram after noticing potential sign of breast cancer. There’s no need to avoid the vaccine in this case, either. Again, just keep the doctors informed on when the shots happened and which doses they were.
Here’s hoping everyone can avoid any extra health worries — there’s been more than enough of that in the last year already.