After the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, health experts recommended that women wait four to six weeks after getting vaccinated to get a mammogram – or schedule the mammogram before getting vaccinated. They said the vaccine could cause temporary swelling of the lymph nodes – falsely indicating the presence of breast cancer.
Dr. Amy Patel, of the Breast Care Center at Liberty Hospital near Kansas City, says the Society of Breast Imaging now says you can consider delaying 4-6 weeks, but ultimately it’s up to your doctor. Patel is a breast radiologist and an assistant professor of radiology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine.
“As we’re seeing more and more patients who have had the vaccine, we know as breast imaging specialists, what to look for on the imaging so that we can prevent an unnecessary callback and also to prevent unnecessary biopsies,” says Patel.
What are breast imaging specialists looking for?
“With breast cancer, what we look for particularly on a lymph node is the outer portion of a lymph node is called the cortex. And what we look for in that cortex is a focal bulge of the cortex or protrusion of the cortex. That is typically where atypical cells will start to accumulate, if there is spread of breast cancer into the lymphatics up in the lymph nodes,” says Patel.
Her comments are in response to an earlier Missourinet story.
For a mammogram, other breast imaging and test results, Patel recommends going to a doctor who specializes in breast imaging.
“It’s important for you to call a breast center and see who reads those mammograms,” she says. “Is it a breast imaging specialist, somebody who reads 100% breast imaging 100% of the time? The breast is a very complex, intricate process and disease and it’s important that you see a specialist so that you can ensure the earliest detection of a breast cancer if it exists in your breast.”
She says about 20% of the patients at Liberty Hospital’s the Breast Care Center is above average risk or at high risk of developing breast cancer. Patel says there have been too many delayed cases since the pandemic.
“Which has been really devastating because it’s either too late to save them or they will be enduring far worse invasive treatment than if they would have not delayed screening,” she says. “It may grow in the interim as you delay imaging. And as a breast cancer grows, we know that your survival probability plummets. So, if we can find a breast cancer, that’s one centimeter or less, your survival probability approaches almost 100%. It’s greater than 95%. So, you aren’t going to die of breast cancer, you’re going to pass from something else. However, if you have a mass that ends up turning into five centimeters and above, your survival probability plummets. So, that’s why we as breast imagers, we, as a breast cancer community are all are always stressing early detection.”
Patel says another thing to remember is there are certain kinds of breast cancers that are more biologically aggressive than others.
“Something known as triple negative breast cancer is very aggressive. And we particularly see this in younger women and women of color. So if you have a triple negative breast cancer, that can grow much more quick compared to maybe if you had a different, basically biologic profile of the cancer. That’s why we feel it is so important, many of us in the breast cancer community, do not delay any mammographic imaging, we know how to handle lymph node swelling, and other factors related to the COVID-19 vaccination.”
To hear the Show Me Today interview, click below.
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