Normal reaction from COVID-19 vaccine could cause confusion with annual mammogram screenings

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Doctors say a normal reaction some people may get from the COVID-19 vaccine could cause confusion with yearly mammogram screenings. They say swollen lymph nodes could be a sign of breast cancer, but it’s also a side effect some people are experiencing after getting the vaccine.  

“Try to get your screening mammogram either before you get the first shot or about four to six weeks after you get the shot,” said Dr. Hanadi BuAli, oncology surgeon and breast health director at Ascension Wisconsin.

Doctors say this discovery wasn’t anticipated, but they’ve now come up with ways to manage it.

We are asking if they’ve had a recent vaccine in the last three to four weeks, and on which side, so we can be prepared if we see it,” said Dr. Lee Wilke, UW Health’s breast center director.

“We know that one of the first signs for spread of breast cancer is the lymph nodes under the arms on that side,” Dr. BuAli says.

Dr. Wilke says when the vaccine rollout began, some UW Health nurses coming in for annual mammogram screenings noticed swollen lymph nodes after being immunized.

“We paid attention and evaluated it and realized that those nodes looked like inflammation and not cancer,” adds Dr. Wilke.

Swollen lymph nodes themselves after a vaccine are not a cause for concern.

It’s because our immune system is starting to crank up its work and produce all those antibodies,” says Dr. BuAli.

“For our cancer patients, we’re asking them to get the vaccine on the opposite side to their cancer so we don’t cause confusion,” Dr. Wilke said.

The CDC says 11.6-percent of people ages 18 to 64 had swelling after the first dose, and 16-percent had it after the second dose of the Moderna vaccine, while swelling does happen with Pfizer also.

Doctors say if you don’t schedule a mammogram before your COVID-19 vaccine, it’s better to wait four to six weeks after the second dose.

“You would expect sort of an amplified response after the second shot, so you might have not seen an enlargement of lymph nodes after the first one,” said Dr. BuAli.

“If you’re already scheduled for a mammogram and a covid vaccine, we’ll manage it, we just need to know,” adds Dr. Wilke.

Dr. Wilke says she’s seen a dramatic drop in mammograms during the beginning of the pandemic, with only 20-percent of women keeping up with their annual screenings. She is encouraging women catch up on their regular screenings.

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