How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted breast cancer?
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—when many were sheltering in place—there was a sharp decline in breast cancer screenings. A study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), found that breast cancer screenings dropped by almost 60%.
While people have gradually returned to get breast cancer screenings, some are still putting them off. Because of this, it’s possible that more breast cancers will be detected at later stages.
Any time there’s a disruption in cancer screenings, you’re opening up the chance that the cancers we’ll eventually find will be more advanced. When the pandemic first hit, there was somewhat of a pause on screenings. But when we developed effective precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19—social distancing, mask wearing, and eventually, vaccines—delayed screenings became a much bigger problem than the risk of getting COVID-19 while at the doctor’s office.
Getting mammograms in the time of COVID-19
While screening numbers are back to near normal, numbers should be higher than normal to account for all of the missed screenings. We’re going to see the pandemic’s effects on breast cancer for a while—so let’s do everything we can to get back on track and get screened regularly.
Everyone can feel safe coming back for regular preventative screenings. At Henry Ford, we have a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for employees, so you know you’ll be safe here. At this point, the benefits of getting screening likely outweigh the risks of contracting COVID-19—and even more so if you’re also fully vaccinated. Detecting breast cancer at an early stage is incredibly important.
- Like all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines can cause swelling of the lymph nodes, which shows that your body is mounting an immune response. Swollen lymph nodes, however, can also be a symptom of breast cancer. If you’re able to, schedule your mammogram before you get your vaccine, or four to six weeks after you get your vaccine.
- If you’re worried you have breast cancer symptoms, however, do not wait to come in, regardless of when you received your COVID-19 vaccine.
- Swollen lymph nodes rarely present as the only symptom of breast cancer. If you experience swollen lymph nodes after the COVID-19 vaccine, you should check with you doctor to determine whether additional testing is necessary. Know that if it’s from the vaccine, the swelling should be gone about three to six months after your vaccination.
To learn more about your own risk factors, take our Breast Cancer Risk Assessment quiz at henryford.com/breastcancerrisk.
To make an appointment with a cancer specialist, visit henryford.com/cancer or call 1-888-777-4167.
Dr. Sabala Mandava is a board-certified radiologist, a breast imager, and the vice chair of radiology at Henry Ford Health System.
Dr. David Pinkney is a board-certified radiologist and the division head of breast imaging at Henry Ford Health System.