If you put off a routine visit to your doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. In fact, appointments plunged by almost 60% in April 2020, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
Those numbers rebounded as the year progressed, and many are now scheduling appointments and check-ups they missed last year. If you need to catch up on your preventive medical care, an essential appointment to make is for a mammogram. It is especially important to get checked if you are 50 to 74, says Dr. Tara Ostrom, Associate Medical Director, OptumCare Primary Care. optumcare.com/PhoenixCare [optumcare.com]..
“If it’s been a year and 10 months or longer, now is the time to get your mammogram,” she says. “There is a little backlog getting everyone caught up. Call now so you can get on the schedule.”
If you are in your 40s or older than 74, talk to your doctor about whether you need a mammogram. Additionally, if you have a personal or family history of breast cancer, you may benefit from beginning screenings at a younger age than others, even if you don’t have symptoms.
“The mammogram has the ability to detect breast cancer before there is a symptom,” Ostrom says. “A screening mammogram takes only 10 to 15 minutes of your time. When cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99%. But remember, more than 75% of women who develop breast cancer have no medical history of it.”
Medical care has come a long way in the past year, Ostrom says. In the early stages of the pandemic, doctors’ offices were developing new protocols to keep staff and patients safe. Now, masking, sanitizing, and distancing have become routine, making for shorter wait times and more efficient check-ins than a year ago. Additionally, appointments are spaced out to allow for distancing and sanitizing between each patient.
As for the mammogram process, if your screening detects anything unusual, your doctor’s office will contact you to schedule a diagnostic mammogram, when the same safety protocols will be in place.
This follow-up appointment offers more in-depth screening with spot compression, magnification, or ultrasound to identify any suspicious spots. A radiologist will review the images in real-time to ensure that the screening has captured all necessary views, so the radiologist can determine the source of the symptom or abnormality.
Vaccines and mammograms
One consideration when scheduling your mammogram is when you were vaccinated against COVID-19, Ostrom says. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations trigger an immune system response from your body, and your lymph nodes may swell, which could raise a flag on an otherwise normal mammogram.
“Swelling of lymph nodes in the armpit area is a normal response to COVID-19 vaccinations, but when they are seen on mammograms, they can be mistaken for nodes that are swollen because of cancer,” according to research from radiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital. “In some cases, the nodes are biopsied to confirm they are not cancer.”
The swelling is normal and should not last more than six weeks after vaccination. As such, to reduce the chance of having swollen lymph nodes show up on your mammography, Ostrom recommends you wait six weeks after your second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines before getting a mammogram. If you notice other symptoms, however, it’s important to get care right away, she says.
For more information, visit optumcare.com/PhoenixCare.