Cincinnati Enquirer: COVID-19 vaccines and mammograms

For months, Mary Mahoney, MD, has worried about the pandemic-driven drop in the number of women getting screened for breast cancer. Now, she worries about the effect of the COVID-19 vaccine on mammography.

“This has blown up on Twitter and discussed seven ways to Sunday,” says Mahoney, professor and chair of UC’s Department of Radiology and the Benjamin Felson Endowed Chair. “We’ve been telling women, ‘Come in and get your mammogram; don’t put it off anymore.’ Now we’re saying, ‘Whoa, wait, hold on a minute, we need to time this.'”

Like all vaccines, the two new coronavirus drugs in use under federal emergency authorization aggravate a human body’s defense against an invader. Signs of that response can include fever, aches and sometimes swelling of lymph nodes.

These small bags of tissue collect and transfer fluid called lymph that fights infection. During clinical testing, the COVID-19 vaccine apparently stimulated such a strong response in some women that swollen armpit lymph nodes showed up on mammograms. Such a picture can lead to additional testing to rule out the cancer lymphoma.

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Featured photo of mammography equipment inside the UC Health mobile mammography unit by Colleen Kelley.

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