COVID-19 vaccine

Topic: COVID-19 vaccine can impact mammogram with ‘false positive’

Getting a mammogram soon after getting the COVID-19 vaccine? Be warned: The vaccine might cause your lymph nodes to swell, which may be confused for a sign of breast cancer.

“Getting the COVID-19 vaccine can cause temporary lymph node enlargement and result in a ‘false positive’ mammogram,” Lisa Ann Mullen, MD, explained in an article published by Johns Hopkins Medicine on the topic. The enlargement may cause “your mammogram to appear abnormal even when you are OK and there is no indication of cancer.”

While the reaction is “nothing to worry about” and is a common effect of all vaccinations, it has caused a rise in swollen armpit lymph nodes on multiple types of breast imaging, leading many women to have additional testing, and sometimes even biopsies, as well as “unnecessary stress and anxiety,” Penn Medicine wrote in a post.

To avoid unnecessary further testing or distress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that people ask their doctors how long they should wait before getting a mammogram after being vaccinated. “Some experts recommend getting your mammogram before being vaccinated or waiting four to six weeks after getting your vaccine,” the CDC adds.

The reason for the vaccine-induced swelling is quite natural.

“The whole point of the vaccine is to get your immune system to mount a response to whatever the vaccine agent is,” diagnostic radiologist Laura Dean, MD, told the nonprofit academic medical center the Cleveland Clinic for an article about the possibly alarming side effect. Lymph nodes, which are part of the body’s immune system, are thus known to swell in response to any and all vaccines, although increased reports suggest the coronavirus shot is causing “more robust swelling in lymph nodes” than others. The symptom appears to subside in “a few days to a few weeks,” Dean noted.

Topic Discussed: COVID-19 vaccine can impact mammogram with ‘false positive’

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