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Doctors warning women that the COVID-19 vaccine could cause false positives in mammograms

Matthew Campbell, Olivia Lank, Caitlin Nuclo, Rob Polansky

(WFSB) – The medical community is looking into a connection of false positives in mammograms in women who recently got the COVID-19 vaccine.

Calculating a more precise risk of developing breast cancer could influence prevention and treatment of the disease.

It’s resulting in some healthcare providers asking their patients to wait weeks before scheduling their mammograms.

However, doctors said their concerns are not meant to discourage anyone from getting their vaccine or from getting a mammogram. They simply want to raise awareness.

It's something they said emerged as more people became vaccinated.

With hospitals discouraging non-emergency visits during the height of the coronavirus, many Connecticut women put off routine doctors’ appointments in 2020.

“I’m kind of high risk, so I let it go last year. I skipped it,” said Marilyn Ahl of Southbury.

Now that Ahl, 74, got her vaccine, she wanted to make up for lost time and scheduled her mammogram.

“They asked me [about] getting a COVID vaccine or have you received your COVID vaccine. I said, ‘yes, I got my first dose yesterday,’” Ahl said on Tuesday.

That’s when doctors told her she would need to reschedule to April.

“I was very surprised because that’s the last thing in the world,” Ahl said.

Ahl said the reason was in the fine print of a pamphlet she was given when she was vaccinated.

“There’s a long list of possible side effects and I don’t know if people look at this, but one of the possible side effects is lymphadenopathy with swollen glands,” Ahl said.

Doctors said swollen glands is a possibility on the same side where the vaccine is injected.

“Most people don’t think about that. Most people get a swollen arm, a headache, a fever. But that’s not something people would normally think about,” Ahl said.

Doctors said this is a normal reaction, but it can affect a mammogram reading.

“That can give you an abnormal appearance because we can see the lymph nodes on the mammogram and see that it’s big, but we don’t know what,” explained Dr. Jessica Leung, Society of Breast Imaging.

Dr. Jessica Leung is the president of the Society of Breast Imaging. She said if lymph nodes are swollen, doctors will usually follow up with a biopsy or ultrasound. However, all of that worry and those procedures will really be meaningless if the swelling is from the vaccine.

The society urged women to either get their mammograms before their first dose or wait at least a month after getting their second dose.

“Some patients may never have enlarged lymph nodes from the COVID vaccine, some may have it in the first week, some may have it go away after a week, some may persist,” Dr. Leung said.

If people can’t work around those scheduling conflicts, doctors said go ahead and get both. When they get the mammogram, they should tell the radiologist about the vaccine. They also said not to be too alarmed if swollen lymph nodes are detected.

Copyright 2019 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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