By Annette Pinder
An interesting phenomenon is occurring in women who receive the COVID-19 vaccine — the lymph nodes in their armpits appear swollen and abnormal. Fortunately, this is not a cause for concern. It is actually a sign of a healthy immune system! However, since swollen lymph nodes can result in a suspicious mammogram, the Society for Breast Imaging (SBI) recommends women schedule their screenings before getting the COVID-19 vaccine or waiting 4-6 weeks after the vaccine.
Dr. Deanna Attai, of UCLA Health, says vaccines can cause lymph nodes to swell on the same side the vaccine is administered. While this is a perfectly normal reaction, it can affect a mammogram reading. When Weill Cornell Medicine in New York began seeing patients with swollen lymph nodes, they confirmed that each had just received a vaccination in that same upper extremity.
Both the SBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found swollen lymph nodes in 11.6 percent of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants after the first dose, and in 16 percent of participants after the second dose. While experts say that the swollen lymph nodes only occur in 0.02 to 0.04 percent of mammogram screenings, a questionable mammogram can result in unneeded fear and anxiety, the need for additional screening. Dr. Scott Rudzinski, a breast radiologist at Windsong Radiology Group, agrees with the SBI recommendations. However, Dr. Rudzinski also believes it is important for patients to refrain from significantly delaying their mammograms.
In an effort to reassure patients, Dr. Rudzinski says, “To date, Windsong Radiology’s anecdotal experience shows that only a small number of patients needs to be recalled for additional imaging due to lymph node enlargement. This is true even for patients who were recently vaccinated. In addition, any further workup is usually only performed with ultrasound of the axilla (armpit). An ultrasound does not add any radiation to the patient’s tissue, and is a quick and painless exam.”
So what do patients need to know about vaccination and swollen lymph nodes?
“First, given that swollen lymph nodes are a sign that their immune system is properly working, and given the very small percentage of patients it may affect, along with the uncertainty of vaccine timing, patients should make every effort to keep their scheduled appointments,” said Dr. Rudzinski. He adds, “When patients call to schedule their mammograms at Windsong, we try not delay their appointment times. It is especially important for those who require diagnostic breast imaging due to any suspicious symptoms (lump, pain, discharge, or follow-up surveillance) to not delay their appointments.”
To make an appointment to get screened at a Windsong Radiology location nearest to where you live, call 716-631-2500 or visit https://windsongwny.com/radiology/request-an-appointment. Learn more about Windsong Radiology’s comprehensive services including screenings, genetic counseling and testing, interventional and vascular services, vein care and more in a half-hour television program on WBBZ-TV on Wednesday, April 14 at 8pm or on Saturday, April 17 at noon at Ch. 5 on Spectrum, Verizon FiOS, and DISH and at Ch. 67 DirecTV.