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COVID-19 Vaccines and Mammograms: What Iowa Women Need to Know

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CLIVE, Iowa — Getting the COVID-19 vaccine can cause different reactions depending on the person. One side effect is causing some concerns among women.

The vaccine can cause swollen lymph nodes, specifically under the arm where the shot was received. While that’s a normal reaction, it can be confused with signs of breast cancer and can even show up in a mammogram.

“When we see changes like that on the mammogram, it causes a little bit of a red flag like okay why is there something changing in there, and it’s not something we can just ignore,” Trish Steenhoek, breast imaging navigator at MercyOne, said. 

“So it has been a little bit of a fear for women when they get that call back from that abnormal screening. So what I’m doing is a lot of educating and trying to do the educating on that phone call, letting them know that it’s most likely a reactive finding from the vaccine.”

When this happens, further testing is completed. In order to avoid this, Steenhoek said Mercyone is following guidelines from the Society of Breast Imaging. 

Women who have their annual screening coming up are advised to either get it done before receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine, or wait four to six weeks after getting the second dose.

While this side effect is impacting when women should be getting their mammograms, health care professionals want people to remember how important these annual screenings are.

“The important thing about mammography and breast imaging is screening mammograms do save the most lives,” Steenhoek said. “Early detection is key in the fight against breast cancer. I know during the pandemic and everything that has been going on for the last year, a lot of women have put off their mammogram thinking it’s not as important, but it definitely is.”

Steenhoek urges both women and men to watch out for any changes to their breasts, and not ignore any symptoms.

“It is very, very important that if there is a new clinical symptom in your breast, if you are feeling a new lump, a new bump, nipple discharge, skin changes never ever ignore that,” Steenhoek advises. “It is always important no matter where you are in your vaccination process to call your doctor and get in for imaging and consult for those type changes.”

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