From Our Experts  |  March 5, 2021  |  Susan Kennedy, MD

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine? Consider a temporary delay with your mammogram.

A side effect from the COVID-19 vaccine can be temporary swelling or enlargement of the lymph nodes under your arm.  Lymph nodes can enlarge when you are fighting off an infection or after receiving a vaccine as this is our body’s normal immune system response.

On a routine mammogram, our breast imaging radiologists can frequently see normal appearing lymph nodes that don’t need any additional follow up. If these nodes appear enlarged, the patient is typically called back for a diagnostic mammogram to further evaluate the lymph node enlargement. To avoid an unnecessary workup or expense from temporary lymph node enlargement due to the COVID vaccine, we are following national guidelines and asking patients to have their screening mammogram prior to receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine or waiting 4-6 weeks after their second vaccination.

We are trying to limit unnecessary callbacks because we understand that returning for additional diagnostic imaging often creates increased anxiety and expense for our patients,” said Dr. Susan Kennedy, Director of Breast Imaging for Wake Radiology UNC REX. “To be clear, we are only suggesting postponement for routine screening mammography. Anytime a patient has a new concern, we always encourage them to be seen by their physician and have breast imaging if indicated. For example, if the patient has a new lump, discharge, focal pain or skin changes, this should not wait and should be evaluated immediately with a diagnostic mammogram.”

Doctors are noticing lymph node swelling, axillary adenopathy, in women regardless of which COVID-19 vaccine they receive. According to a January 2021 study published in Clinical Imaging, this side effect occurs with both the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. About 11% of all women experience swelling after the first dose and about 16% after the second.

Wake Radiology UNC REX provides outpatient 3D mammography and comprehensive breast imaging throughout the greater Triangle. Patients can request an appointment online or by calling 919-232-4700. We have also increased safety protocols at all of our offices to ensure patients are safe to return to care.

About Our Expert

Dr. Susan Kennedy
Susan L. Kennedy, MD — Dr. Susan Kennedy joined the practice in 1996. She is a breast imaging radiologist with special clinical interests in mammography. Learn More...

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