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What some women don’t know about the COVID vaccine and mammograms – and why

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • Apr 26, 2021 12:00:00 AM

Jezebel.com is an unapologetically snarky feminist website, looking out for women while also making them laugh. One of their April 12 headlines perfectly embodied this attitude: “Doctors Forgot to Warn People With Breasts That the Covid Vaccine Could Affect Their Next Mammogram”.

In the article, Shannon Melero reports that women who had recently had the COVID-19 vaccine were sometimes getting troubling mammogram results. The scans showed swollen lymph nodes under their arms.

While this can be a sign of breast cancer, it’s also, it turns out, a side effect of the COVID vaccine.

As a doctor interviewed in the article explains, swollen lymph nodes are a sign that the body is fighting the virus. They’re a common side effect of many other vaccines, as well.

If this is the case, why aren’t women being informed? Melero reports that when she went for her COVID-19 vaccine, there was nothing about mammograms in the informational brochure she was given. Also not mentioned: the fact that the vaccine seems to have an effect on some women’s menstrual cycles, with certain patients reporting heavier or earlier periods.

The article spotlights a problem that’s thankfully becoming increasingly talked-about in the media and among advocacy groups: When it comes to medicine, women and minorities often take a back seat to (white) male patients.

Still, is that the case here? Many commenters on the Jezebel article said that they were informed by their healthcare providers about the link between the shot and mammogram results.

And while it seems like the article brought the issue to light, a quick online search shows that organizations, media outlets, and healthcare providers have been spreading the word about it as early as February. For instance, a video entitled “Mammograms and the COVID-19 vaccine” was posted to YouTube by the Mayo Clinic on February 19. The video is one of many articles and other sources (including a mention on the CDC’s website) that have been published over the past few months.

So, is the Jezebel article just sensationalism? Irrational anger? Clickbait?

No. The fact that Melero herself wasn’t informed about the COVID vaccine/mammogram connection shows that while some women are being told these facts before getting the shot, others clearly aren’t.

The shot’s potential effect on patients’ menstrual cycles, on the other hand, seems to be more recent news. Specific situations like a particular medical procedure are one thing, but a constant in a large percentage of women’s lives is another. It’s frustrating to think that this issue wasn’t addressed during vaccine development and distribution.

Ultimately, the Jezebel article is a solution to the very problem it addresses. With its attention-grabbing headline and wide readership, it’s another source of information for patients who may not have been told about the possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine on female health.

Of course, it should be one of many ways for women to learn about vaccine side effects. The primary way should be through their healthcare provider or the person administering the vaccine. If time is short, healthcare providers could consider printing out information to give to female patients. The FAQ section of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ website could be a good source for this.

Hopefully, the word will continue to spread about the COVID-19 vaccine’s potential impact on mammogram results and menstruation. But the situation is a reminder for female patients that all too often, our specific health concerns are overlooked.

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