September 21, 2021 – We’ve known for months that COVID-19 vaccines can cause a reaction that can make women fear breast cancer. But scientists and doctors say mammograms remain as important as ever.
But these changes are temporary, and they don’t seem to be a cause for concern.
The COVID vaccine creates an immune response in the body. It is quite possible that after vaccination, there will be some swelling in the lymph nodes. “These lymph nodes contain immune cells known as B cells,” says Zina Nahle, MD, director of the Maroon Cancer Center at Cleveland Clinic Weston.
“When they respond to vaccines, they generate antibodies, and a buildup of antibodies in the lymph nodes may cause the (breast) lymph nodes to swell.”
Advocates, oncologists, and Nahle recommend that you either get a mammogram before your vaccination or wait one to two months afterward.
This way, you won’t be confused as to whether your lymph nodes are actually getting bigger or it’s just a side effect of the vaccine. If it’s not an emergency, delay your mammogram 6-8 weeks after your vaccination, she says.
Other doctors advise women to continue to have a mammogram, even if they recently had the vaccine. Randy Hicks, MD and CEO of Regional Medical Imaging in Michigan says they have continued to screen thousands of women annually, including during the pandemic. They simply explain any potential vaccine side effects by noting whether patients have had the COVID vaccine and in which arm.
This simple observation shows enlarged lymph nodes on a mammogram.
Hicks also notes that the new AI technology could improve doctors’ accuracy while reading mammograms and reduce false positives and unnecessary recalls for women.
If you have had breast cancer, the coronavirus should not deter you from treatment.
But it is important that breast cancer patients are vaccinated, considering that they have a chance of having a weakened immune system.
The immune system is responsible for fighting off diseases that your body encounters on a daily basis. If it is compromised, it will not be effective, and this can lead to an opportunistic infection.
If you have lower immunity, you’ll want to get a vaccine to help fight the virus should it ever get into your body. The problem with that is that [the vaccine] It may not work as well in patients with lowered immune systems than in patients with normal immunity,” says Hicks.
To help the vaccine work better in cancer patients, Hicks, along with the CDC, recommends that cancer patients get a booster dose about 6 to 8 months after the second shot. This will help boost the immune system’s response to the virus.
Despite all this, it’s normal for people to worry about getting sick, which is why Hicks suggests doing the things that worry you rather than putting them off. Patients are also asked to eat the right things, such as fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep, and do outdoor activities.
“Maintaining healthy habits is the best way to manage stress for any patient, not unhealthy habits,” says Nahle.