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Recently Got a COVID-19 Vaccine? Don’t Delay Your Mammogram Because of It

You’ve likely heard about possible COVID-19 vaccine side effects like short-term arm pain or fatigue. But the shot can also cause short-term swelling of the lymph nodes, which could trigger concerns about the results of a mammogram.

“Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that help the body fight infection. They cluster in different areas of the body—including the armpits, near the breasts,” explained Andrea Abbott, MD, a breast radiologist at Fox Chase. “Because lymph nodes are part of the immune system, they could temporarily swell in response to any type of vaccine, including the COVID-19 vaccine.” That’s especially true for lymph nodes around the armpit, near where the vaccine was injected.

It’s completely normal to experience swollen or tender lymph nodes for a few days after being vaccinated. But the reaction can lead to false alarms on mammograms, since enlarged lymph nodes can also be a sign of breast cancer.

Should I postpone my mammogram after my COVID-19 shot?

The simple answer is no. Regular mammograms play a key role in catching breast cancer early, when there’s the best chance for successful treatment. Here at Fox Chase Cancer Center, we’re encouraging women who’ve recently gotten the COVID-19 vaccine to stick with their regularly scheduled screening test. You also shouldn’t delay scheduling a mammogram if you notice any unusual changes to your breast, regardless of whether you’ve recently been vaccinated.

“Axillary adenopathy, or enlarged lymph nodes, can be found on breast imaging after receiving the COVID vaccine,” explained Andrea Porpiglia, MD, MSc, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase. “We recommend not delaying your mammogram if you have a breast concern. Discuss with your provider the timing of your mammogram in regard to the COVID vaccine in order to avoid unnecessary workups, biopsies, or worry.”

You’ll likely be asked about your COVID-19 vaccine status at the time of your mammogram. But if you’re not, you should let your provider know when you come in for your screening if you’ve recently gotten your shot. “Our technicians here at Fox Chase are asking our patients if they have received the vaccine so that they can let us know before we read their mammogram,” says Abbott. If your mammogram does show that your lymph nodes are enlarged, your provider can factor in your immunization status and decide on the best follow-up plan. Your lymph nodes may well go down on their own within a few days if they’re swollen because of the vaccine. Still, to be on the safe side, your provider may recommend coming back for another imaging test or following up with your physician to confirm that the swelling has gone away.  

Should I postpone my COVID-19 vaccine to get my mammogram?

The answer to that question is also no. Vaccination offers the best protection against COVID-19. If you’re eligible to receive your shot, you shouldn’t delay it for the sake of getting your mammogram.

The bottom line

“Don’t delay your mammogram after getting your COVID-19 vaccine, and don’t delay your COVID-19 vaccine because you have a mammogram coming up,” says Abbott.

Learn more about breast cancer screening at Fox Chase Cancer Center.