September 21, 2021 – We have known for months that COVID-19 vaccines can produce a reaction that can make women fearful of breast cancer. But, say scientists and doctors, mammograms remain as important as ever.
But these changes are temporary and don’t seem to be a cause for concern.
“The COVID vaccine creates an immune response in the body. It is quite possible that the lymph nodes will swell after the vaccination. These lymph nodes contain immune cells known as B cells, ”said Zeina Nahleh, MD, director of the Maroone Cancer Center at Cleveland Clinic Weston Hospital.
“When they respond to the vaccines, they make antibodies, and the buildup of antibodies in the lymph nodes can cause enlarged (breast) lymph nodes.”
Lawyers, oncologists, and Nahleh recommend that you either do your mammography screening exam before vaccination or wait 1 to 2 months afterwards.
That way, you won’t get confused about whether your lymph nodes are actually getting bigger or whether it’s just a side effect of the vaccination. If there’s no emergency, postpone your mammogram 6-8 weeks after your vaccination, she says.
Other clinicians advise women to continue to have mammograms even if they recently received the vaccine. Randy Hicks, MD, co-owner and CEO of Regional Medical Imaging in Michigan, says they continue to screen thousands of women annually, even during the pandemic. They simply take into account all possible side effects of the vaccine by noting whether patients received the COVID vaccine and in which arm.
This little observation explains the swollen lymph nodes on the mammogram.
Hicks also points out that new artificial intelligence technologies can improve doctors’ accuracy in reading mammograms and reduce false positives and unnecessary recalls for women.
If you have breast cancer, the coronavirus shouldn’t keep you from getting treatment.
But it is important that breast cancer patients are vaccinated as they have the chance of a weakened immune system.
The immune system is responsible for fighting off diseases that your body encounters on a daily basis. If compromised, it would not be as effective and this can lead to opportunistic infections.
“If you have lower immunity, you will want to have a vaccine to fight the virus if it gets into your body. The problem with this is that it is [the vaccine] may not work as well in people with compromised immune systems as they do in people with normal immunity, “says Hicks.
In order for the vaccine to work better in cancer patients, Hicks, together with the CDC, recommends that cancer patients receive a booster dose about 6 to 8 months after the second vaccination. This will help increase the immune system’s response to the virus.
Even so, it’s normal for people to worry about getting sick, which is why Hicks suggests doing the things you worry about rather than postponing them. He also urges patients to eat the right things, such as fruits and vegetables, get enough sleep, and participate in outdoor activities.
“Maintaining healthy habits is the best way for any patient to manage stress, not unhealthy habits,” says Nahleh.
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