Deanna’s Discoveries: Your COVID vaccine might cause a false positive mammogram. Doctors stress get screened anyway

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Get your annual mammogram. Get your COVID-19 vaccine. All would argue that we, as women, need to do both. But some women who got their vaccine before their mammogram got a terrifying result, a false positive.

In this edition of Deanna’s Discoveries, I go to the experts for an explanation and advice for all of us.

The fear factor drove many to postpone their annual mammograms last year. It wasn’t fear of cancer; it was fear of the other “C” word, COVID.

Asked if she’d witnessed women delaying breast screenings over the last year, Dr. Avice O’Connell, Director of Women’s Imaging at URMC nodded.

“Absolutely," she responded. “First you didn’t know if we were open, then you didn’t know if it was clean and safe."

But she assures patients that it is safe because of all the measures facilities have taken, from social distancing to sanitizing. And in recent months, women have begun screening again. But then doctors started seeing a problem. It was something new and troubling.

"Initially when people started getting their mammograms again after the pandemic, and they were also lucky enough to get a vaccine, we initially were seeing on one side of their body there would be an enlarged lymph node," Dr. O’Connell said.

That led radiologists to believe it was cancer because when breast cancer spreads it most likely travels to the lymph nodes. But these women didn’t have cancer. It was a false positive.

"Only until we realized that these folks had just had a vaccine on that side and this was the normal body response, perfect response to the vaccine," O’Connell said.

So doctors now recommend that you get your mammogram before your vaccine if possible. But Dr. O’Connell acknowledged that rescheduling isn’t always possible.

"It’s not always easy to change your appointment,” O’Connell said. "If you call up and say ‘Look I finally scored a vaccine next week. Can I get a vaccine this week?’ Some offices might say we can’t do that. Please do not cancel is my message. Get the vaccine, and tell the person doing the mammogram that you had a vaccine on that side and they will note that on your record."

If you have a swollen lymph node when you get your mammogram, and doctors know that you got the vaccine, your radiologist will likely follow up with a sonogram in a few weeks just to make sure you’re clear. Doctors stress that if you get the vaccine before your mammogram, don’t cancel the appointment. Just make sure your health team knows.