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If your annual mammogram is due during the timeframe you could be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, you may want to do a little schedule juggling. “Our radiology colleagues recommend having your mammogram prior to your Covid-19 vaccine or delaying your mammogram until six weeks after your vaccination is complete in order to prevent a false positive reading,” says Dr. Emily Stone, OB/GYN at Virginia Physicians for Women (VPFW) and President of Medical Staff at Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center.
How could COVID-19 vaccination cause a false positive on a mammogram?
One of the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines is swelling of the underarm area. “It’s called axillary adenopathy, which means enlarged lymph nodes, and it can be cause for concern if seen on your mammography scan,” says Bridget Ames, Manager of Mammography at VPFW.
Lymph node swelling is a normal vaccine response that occurs from the production of antibodies – a sign that your body is responding to the vaccine and building its defense against the virus that causes COVID-19. But it can also be a sign of breast cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes. That’s why some women who have received a mammogram shortly after a COVID vaccination have been asked to return for additional imaging.
Does this mean I should reschedule my mammogram?
You may want to. VPFW is encouraging patients to follow the recommendations of the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) and the radiologists who read our mammograms: to consider scheduling screening exams prior to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or 4-6 weeks following the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine (and not in between the first and second dose).
“Following the recommendations of SBI can minimize the likelihood of receiving what can be an alarming call to obtain additional diagnostic breast imaging for something that may be solely vaccine-related,” says Ames.
Can I schedule my mammogram earlier so that I can get the vaccine when I get the opportunity?
Yes! VPFW’s current mammography expansion means there’s more availability for appointments, and most insurance plans will cover a mammogram as long as it’s been at least 365 days since your last one.
“This situation can be frustrating for patients who are trying to get vaccinated as soon as possible, but don’t know when that will be,” says Ames. “But now that VPFW offers mammography services at four locations in the greater Richmond area, we have much more flexibility when it comes to scheduling and rescheduling around vaccination.” VPFW began offering mammography at its St. Francis location in December, in addition to its Midlothian Turnpike, Prince George, and West Creek offices. Mammography capacity at the Prince George office will be doubled in April, and when VPFW’s new headquarters building opens on Koger Center Blvd, it will have double the mammography capacity of their current headquarters on Midlothian Turnpike.
“If you’d like to get your mammogram earlier so that you can jump on a vaccine opportunity as soon as it arises, just give us a call us at 897-2100. We can get you in within a few days at one of our mammography locations. Our St. Francis office in Midlothian is only 20 minutes from downtown!” says Ames.
To learn more about mammography services at VPFW, go to vpfw.com. You can also call us at 897-2100 if you have any questions or if you’d like to schedule (or reschedule) a screening mammogram.