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MURRAY — New mammography guidelines for women getting the COVID-19 vaccine were adopted Tuesday by Intermountain Healthcare and hospitals nationwide.
Doctors said swelling from the vaccine can complicate an accurate reading of mammograms.
The guidelines said women who recently had the COVID-19 vaccine or plan to get it soon may want to reschedule an upcoming mammogram.
Swelling in the lymph nodes can lead to a bad reading.
"What a lot of people don't realize is that when we do a mammogram, we can see those lymph nodes," said Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare's Breast Care Center.
The medical center now recommends that women over 40 get their annual mammogram before getting the vaccine, or delay that cancer screening by at least four weeks after their final dose.
Here's why: When people get the COVID-19 vaccine, their arm swells. "Those who have gotten the vaccination can attest to that," said Parkinson.
That swelling also shows up in the lymph nodes in the armpit area, usually on the same side the shot was given, which is visible in a mammogram. Typically, they don't see enlarged lymph nodes unless it's inflammation or cancer. Recent national research found swelling in the lymph nodes in 11% of vaccine recipients after the first dose and 16% after the second dose.
"So when you have a mammogram right after a COVID vaccine, you can have enlarged lymph nodes," said Parkinson.
He said they rarely see enlarged lymph nodes, unless breast cancer has traveled to the lymph nodes or if it's lymphoma or leukemia.
So when you have a mammogram right after a COVID vaccine, you can have enlarged lymph nodes... We don't want patients to get these false positives to have this sort of alarm.
–Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director of Intermountain Healthcare's Breast Care Center
"We don't want patients to get these false positives to have this sort of alarm," said Parkinson. "So, we put out a set of guidelines for patients to follow."
The new guidelines are also recommended by the Society of Breast Imaging after swollen lymph nodes were found in mammograms nationwide.
If the swelling in the lymph nodes does not go away after four weeks, Parkinson said you should get it checked by a doctor.
"This is a known side effect," he said. "Don't panic when it happens. But if it doesn't resolve, then come in and be seen and we will look at that lymph node specifically."