Doctors say the COVID-19 vaccine can show a false mammogram reading for breast cancer from swollen lymph nodes. In the case of some, these swollen lymph nodes are just a result of the immune system response to the vaccine.
“The lymph nodes are part of the white blood cells or infection fighting system of the body. They’re basically the filters,” said Dr. David Conston, a radiologist with the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Desert Regional Medical Center.
He showed us a side by side comparison of a mammogram. The image is below. On the right shows an image from 2015. On the left, two days after the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine. “You see those oval kind of bean shaped structures, those are the lymph nodes under the arm,” explained Conston.
He also explained that right now, this is only happening on the side of the injection. “If somebody came in and the lymph nodes were enlarged on the other side then it would be a red flag,” said Conston.
He said he has seen a handful of patients so far with swollen lymph nodes due to the vaccine. As more people get vaccinated, he expects that number to increase.
He reassured that this is not a cause for concern as it indicates the vaccine is doing its job. If imaging shows these swollen lymph nodes, you might get called back for more imaging at a later date to be sure everything is in order. “But it’s also going to show up, not just in my field of breast imaging, but it’s also going to show up for people who get PET scans, and CAT scans, and MRI’s,” added Conston. He said this is because there are lymph nodes in places like your neck as well.
One thing he does not want to happen is for people to cancel their mammogram appointments. “People have been putting aside doing their mammograms because of the COVID pandemic, they didn’t want to go into a hospital or hospital like setting,” said Conston. He urged people to keep their vaccine appointment and their other appointments. “Most facilities will ask if they have been vaccinated and if they have, which arm, when, and whether it’s first or second dose,” said Conston. Another thing you can do is get your mammogram done before getting the vaccine or wait 4-6 weeks after your second dose to get the mammogram.