We’ve been saying for some time that we’ve only scratched the surface at all the ways COVID is going to affect us. I’m finding more and more dots being connected by the pandemic as we go along. I was just talking to a friend about the amount of irregular mammograms my friends have had this past year only to have it be nothing when they had it biopsied. It turns out, COVID may be partially to blame. Or rather, the vaccine. According to reports, many mammograms are showing nodes on women who recently received the COVID vaccine. The good news is, it’s probably nothing we need to worry about.
“I cannot tell you how many women are showing nodes on mammograms and people thought it was going to be not that common,” said Lehman, who is also a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.
Tales of unnecessary biopsies spurred the patient care committee of the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) to put out an advisory in January: Ask your patients about their Covid-19 status, and record the date and which arm received the vaccine. Consider that before automatically scheduling a biopsy.
“We wanted to advocate that women don’t always need to have a biopsy,” said Dr. Lars Grimm, associate professor of radiology at Duke University School of Medicine and one of the authors of the SBI advisory. “Because oftentimes the default if you see swollen lymph nodes in a patient would actually be to recommend doing a biopsy.”
Mass General’s Lehman agreed. “When you hear hoofbeats, don’t think zebra,” she said. “If a woman had a vaccine in the arm on the same side, and the lymph nodes are swollen, this is a normal biological response. It’s totally expected. It just doesn’t make sense to start imaging.”
To avoid unnecessary worry, SBI recommends women schedule any routine, annual breast screening before getting the Covid-19 vaccine. If a woman has already had the vaccine, or is soon scheduled to do so, the society suggests waiting at least four to six weeks after the second dose before scheduling your appointment.
The article states the nodes are more prevalent on whichever side you received the vaccine. On the one hand, this makes sense and thank goodness they were able to make this connection. On the other hand – can we get a flipping break! How much stress do we need?! So after a year of trying to avoid a deadly virus and lockdown, some poor lady goes in for a routine mammogram, only to be told she needs a biopsy for the first time in her life. Those are scary words when you hear them for the first time! Fortunately, now we know and doctors are getting COVID histories prior to screenings. So people at least get some context for irregular results.
Obviously, if you feel like a biopsy is necessary, get one. You can always insist on follow up regardless when you had the vaccine. But if you have no history of cancer and there is a sudden appearance of nodes on your mammogram, for once, it may not be anything to freak out about. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t use it as an excuse to eat ice cream and buy yourself flowers, you know – self-care. But the heebie-jeebies can be kept at bay a bit longer. The important thing is to keep your screening appointments. Just consult with your doctor about your vaccine schedule when planning your visit.
Photos credit: National Cancer Institute and CDC on Unsplash
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