When the number of COVID-19 cases increased last year, the number of breast cancer diagnoses decreased. The latest data shows that breast cancer screenings dropped more than 89 percent during the pandemic. So, what’s the reason women were skipping screenings?
In 2021, an estimated 330,840 women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer, and mammograms are hailed as an essential screening tool that helps save lives.
While there is debate about the right age for screening—research differs on whether it’s best to start biannual screenings at age 40 or age 50—there is one thing most doctors agree on: It’s best to schedule your annual mammogram before you get your COVID-19 vaccine, if possible. (Since there is debate, and breast density plays a role, talk to your doctor about options you may have based on your risk profile.)
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic also played a role in whether or not women were able to schedule their screenings over the past year. Now, many are doing so after getting vaccinated.
“As more people started getting vaccinated, we started seeing more and more women coming back into clinic for their routine screening mammograms or with palpable lumps under their armpits,” explains Lars Grimm, MD, breast radiologist at Duke Health and chair of the committee on patient care and delivery for the Society of Breast Imaging. “Breast radiologists quickly realized that we were seeing an uptick in the number of cases that seemed to correspond to women who’d had a recent COVID-19 vaccine.”
Clinical trials showed that swollen lymph nodes under the armpits (called axillary adenopathy) were a common side effect of the vaccine. Swollen lymph nodes were reported under the arm where women got their COVID-19 the vaccine.
“We want to raise awareness that because this is an increasing thing as we ramp up our vaccination efforts, we want to make sure that we’re not doing a bunch of biopsies for women who don’t need them,” Grimm adds.
The Society of Breast Imaging released guidelines suggesting that women get their annual mammogram before their first dose of the vaccine or at least four weeks after their second dose—but Grimm cautions against postponing a scheduled mammogram for too long.
“We know that a lot of women cancelled their screening mammogram last year [due to the pandemic] and we want to make sure women don’t cancel their mammograms again this year,” he says. “You should get both your COVID-19 vaccine and your mammogram.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.