Screening Mammograms Following COVID-19 Vaccination – Information for Patients

Following the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine, reports published in the United States suggest a few cases of axillary lymphadenopathy (lumpiness in your armpit) following vaccination which may mimic breast cancer symptoms.

The American Journal of Radiology has cited data showing about 12-16% of patients receiving either Moderna or Pfizer vaccines developed swollen lymph nodes in the armpit or neck. This occurred within a week of vaccination and affected the same side as the arm that was injected. Swollen axillary (armpit) lymph nodes can be seen on mammogram and can look similar to lymph nodes associated with a breast cancer.

Mercy Radiology would like to reassure their patients planning on attending for screening mammogram that this information should not be cause for alarm as this is not a common side effect and the risks of delaying mammograms far outweigh the benefits.

Swollen lymph nodes are a sign that the vaccine is working and creating the antibodies needed to fight the virus and should resolve within a few weeks. That said, it is important not to ignore a lump or other change, and let your GP know.

Please do not cancel or reschedule your mammogram if you have been vaccinated and likewise do not cancel your vaccination based on the scheduling of your mammogram.

Breast cancer is most treatable when it is caught early, which is why regular screening is our best tool. Make sure you are up to date with your mammograms and let your doctor or mammographer know if you have had the Covid-19 vaccine recently, and in which arm.

Mercy Radiology will be asking patients attending for mammogram appointments when they have received their COVID- 19 vaccine. We will record which arm the vaccination was administered.

If you have previously had breast cancer, we would advise you to have your COVID- 19 vaccine in the contralateral arm or in your thigh.

Do I need a doctor’s referral for an appointment?

You do not require a referral for your mammogram if you are 40yrs and older, but if below the age of 40yrs you should have a referral from a GP if needing a mammogram. You will require a doctor’s referral for an ultrasound. Please phone or email to arrange a convenient time for your appointment.

How long will my mammogram take?

It’s a good idea to allow 30min – 1 hour. Unexpected delays can occur but if there is a delay our reception team will let you know as soon as possible.

What should I wear?

Wear comfortable clothing and we suggest it is best to wear a skirt or trousers rather than a dress.

Why a mammogram?

A mammogram is still the best procedure for detecting small lumps that can’t be felt by hand. It uses low-dose x-rays to create images of the breast tissue to reveal any abnormalities or problem areas.

What age should I start getting mammograms?

At Mercy Breast Clinic, we recommend that women aged 40-50 get a mammogram every year and women over 50, every second year. If you have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, speak to us about when you should start having regular mammograms.

What happens during the mammogram procedure?

Firstly, we’ll ask you to undress above the waist and provide you with a wrap to put on. Next, one of our specialists will ready the machine’s plates and position your breasts up onto the plates. The upper plate will then be lowered, compressing your breasts for a short period of time while our specialist takes x-ray pictures. You may feel slight discomfort when your breasts are flattened between the plates – if it becomes too unbearable please tell us. The entire procedure will take approximately 20minutes – with the actual breast compression lasting only a few minutes. We’ll have results ready to discuss with you immediately after your mammogram.

What should I do or tell the specialist before my mammogram?

Many women schedule their mammograms around their period cycle. The days leading up to your period, or during your flow, can make your breasts more tender. If you are experiencing or have experienced any breast changes or problems please talk to us about these before your mammogram. It’s also important that you inform us about any medical history that could affect your breast cancer risk—such as breast cancer in your family or hormone risk, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.