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Mammogram guidelines updated for women recently vaccinated for COVID-19

Breast Cancer Screening
Posted at 6:08 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 18:08:09-05

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Intermountain Healthcare doctors announced new mammogram guidelines Tuesday in response to a surprising new side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine.

They say women who recently received a COVID-19 vaccine may have to postpone their yearly mammogram.

“When one receives a vaccination there is an inflammatory response in the arm,” said Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Breast Care Center.

In the past four weeks, doctors have seen swollen lymph nodes on screening mammograms of women who have recently been vaccinated.

“Whenever we see these on a normal screening mammogram we call those patients back because it can either mean metastatic breast cancer which travels to the lymph nodes or lymphoma or leukemia.”

While inflammation is the body’s normal response to a vaccine, Dr. Parkinson says it’s surprising how many swollen lymph nodes they’ve been seeing.

“With the Moderna vaccine, it’s about 11% after the first dose and 16% after the second dose. We believe it’s comparable for the Pfizer vaccine as well.”

In response, Intermountain rolled out new guidelines in accordance with the Society of Breast Imaging.

Women should get their mammogram before their first dose of the vaccine, or wait four weeks after their second dose of the vaccine.

“We don’t want these patients to get a false positive to have this sort of alarm,” Parkinson said.

If there are worrisome symptoms, such as a suspicious lump, Dr. Parkinson says don’t delay getting a mammogram.

“Breast cancer kills women between 40 and 50,000 a year. Many of those deaths are needless,” Parkinson said. “I know that screening mammographies are the only test that has been shown over the last 30 to 40 years to decrease the death rate of breast cancer.”

If you have an opportunity to get the vaccine, Dr. Parkinson urges you to get it because appointments are limited. He adds that postponing a mammogram screening a month or two won’t be as impactful.

This story was first reported by Tamara Vaifanua at KSTU.