You arrive at the clinic for your mammogram and while lifting your arm, a small twinge reminds you that you got your COVID-19 booster just a few days ago.
Your friend had to come back for repeat images after her mammogram ― and she told you it was because she’d had a recent COVID-19 vaccine.
Cringing, you try to decide whether to mention your vaccine to the technician doing your study. Will she make you come back for a mammogram at a different time?
You’re not alone in your confusion. Guidelines and messaging around vaccines and mammograms have changed. But the good news is that updated guidelines and recent research agree: No matter when you got your vaccine ― COVID-19 or otherwise ― you shouldn’t wait to get a mammogram. Simply let the health care provider know when and in which arm you received the vaccine.
Starting at age 40, Mayo Clinic encourages women to get their annual mammograms. The screening can detect irregularities in the breast, including swollen lymph nodes in the breasts and underarms.
Swollen lymph nodes may indicate breast cancer ― or they may mean that a vaccine is working.
“Vaccines affect the immune system. The whole idea is that they’re generating an immune response so that your body can later recognize a certain virus or disease and fight it in the future,” says Kristin Robinson, M.D., a diagnostic radiologist at Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic.
Lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system.
“The vaccine is working on the immune system,” says Dr. Robinson. “Any vaccine really can cause lymph node swelling.”
If you’re due for your annual breast cancer screening and vaccinations, including vaccinations for shingles, flu and COVID-19, you may want to consider timing to avoid any concerns.
“We would recommend having your mammogram and then have your vaccination. That way, we avoid any confusion or any possibility if the lymph nodes do swell, we wouldn’t see that then on the mammogram.”
If the timing doesn’t work and you need to get your vaccinations first, this is OK. Don’t delay or reschedule a mammogram. Just be sure to let your technician know when you received a vaccine and on which side it was injected.
Kristin A. Robinson, M.D.
Dr. Robinson is a diagnostic radiologist at Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.