TAMPA, Fla. — While the White House and medical leaders continue to push people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it's important to keep in mind the timing of the shots, especially for women.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impacts of the disease while encouraging women to get their annual mammograms.
While doctors say the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, they can cause a side effect that could be mistaken as a sign of cancer.
Dr. Bethany Niell of Moffitt Cancer Center explains, “The vaccines have been shown to potentially cause some swelling of lymph nodes.”
Particularly in the armpit of the same arm a person received the vaccine.
Dr. Niell explains, “lymph nodes are normal parts of your body, they’re actually located in many different parts of your body. Lymph nodes seen on mammograms are the ones located in armpits.”
They help fight off infection, but a swollen lymph node could mimic a concerning lump during a self-exam or mammogram and could raise a red flag on a mammogram, ultrasound or breast MRI.
Doctors want women to account for their shots when they’re planning an appointment for a routine breast cancer screening to avoid confusion or unnecessary concern. You're encouraged to talk with your doctor about the timing.
“I think the bottom line though is to try and be, let’s say strategic, about how you schedule your vaccine and your mammogram and your other imaging appointments,” explains Dr. Niell.
She suggests scheduling a mammogram about 6-weeks after your vaccination, as long as there are no other symptoms of concern.
Currently, annual screening is encouraged at age 40 for women who are at average risk of developing breast cancer. If you have an increased risk of developing breast cancer because of family history or genetic mutations, those screenings should start earlier.
Dr. Niell says patients should not delay getting the Covid-19 vaccine, “vaccines are very effective, that’s an important thing for everyone to remember.”
She also says the lymph node swelling and other sign effects, indicate that your body is responding to the shot.
“All of those symptoms, including the swollen lymph nodes, are often indications that your body is responding to the vaccine. It’s telling me that that vaccine is working.”