Intermountain Healthcare is adopting new mammography guidelines for women who have had or plan to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, a change that is in alignment with new national recommendations.
Doctors are now recommending that women undergo their mammogram screening before getting the vaccine or delay their screening by at least four weeks after their final COVID vaccine dose.
The new guidelines are in alignment with updated recommendations from the national Society of Breast Imaging, which issued the update after radiologists from around the country noticed an increased number of mammograms showing swollen lymph nodes in women who recently received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The swelling typically appears in the armpit a few days after vaccination on the side that the patient received the vaccine and then decreases after two to four weeks.
“This type of swelling is not that unusual and can also occur due to other vaccines or illnesses because lymph nodes can swell as a part of the body’s immune response,” said Brett Parkinson, MD, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Breast Care Center.
Recent research from the Centers for Disease and Prevention found that more than 11 percent of vaccine recipients experience swollen lymph nodes after the first dose, and 16 percent have swelling after the second dose.
Dr. Parkinson said doctors want to avoid false positives, which can cause unnecessary visits and undue worry for patients.
“We’ve seen this type of swelling on scans before, but never so pronounced because of one type of vaccine,” said Dr. Parkinson. “We have procedures in place to confirm if swollen lymph nodes are actually cancer, but we don’t want to have a patient go through the undue stress and anxiety of follow up visits, if they don’t have to.”
During a normal screening, swollen lymph nodes would require a biopsy to determine if cancer cells are present, Dr. Parkinson noted. If the swelling is being caused by the vaccine or another illness, it normally goes away after four to six weeks, which is why the new guidelines are in place, he said.
Swollen lymph nodes are normally found in the armpit or neck during a screening. Dr. Parkinson said if a woman finds swelling or a lump in her breast that’s something different, that should be checked through a screening mammogram as soon as possible.
Although some women may need to delay their mammograms until four weeks after receiving their final COVID vaccine dose, doctors are reminding patients never to skip their annual screenings all together.
Waiting four weeks is not enough time for any cancers that could be present to significantly spread, Dr. Parkinson added, although delaying screening more than a year could give time for cancers to grow and be more invasive to treat.
Intermountain Healthcare is taking steps to ensure there are enough mammogram appointments for women and have extended hours in some places to meet their needs.
As a part of COVID-19 safety protocols, appointments are spread out to allow for social distancing in the waiting room and caregivers do a deep clean of every screening room in between patients.
To schedule a mammogram screening appointment, call 801-507-7840, or click here.
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