Getting the COVID Vaccine? Here’s What You Should Know About Cancer Imaging

Nurse leader Jeanine Gordon gives nurse Emma Devlin the COVID-19 vaccination.

Nurse leader Jeanine Gordon gives nurse Emma Devlin the COVID-19 vaccination. Photo: Richard DeWitt.

A small but significant number of people experience swollen lymph nodes as a side effect of receiving a COVID vaccine. This can look like a clinically significant finding on cancer imaging, including chest CTs, PET scans, mammography, and breast MRI. In response, radiologists from MSK and three other institutions recently published recommendations for cancer imaging and COVID vaccination.

As reported by Reuters and the Associated Press, the authors recommend scheduling routine cancer imaging screenings either before vaccination or six weeks after. But patients should not delay getting either the vaccine or clinically urgent imaging. Cancer patients should receive the vaccine in the arm opposite the active or suspected cancer. Medical staff should ask patients receiving imaging about their vaccine history, including the date of vaccination and the side of the body vaccinated. If enlarged lymph nodes appear on imaging, radiologists may request follow up images or, in a small number of cases, biopsy.  

Want to learn more about MSK’s COVID-related research? Visit Synapse, the Library’s database of MSK-authored publications, for a full list of COVID-related works.

 Want to know more about COVID vaccination? Visit MSK’s info page.

Administering Vaccines—And Hope

Allison Betof Warner

Dr. Allison Betof Warner, MD, PhD, Medical Oncologist

A recent Business Insider article focuses on what it feels like to administer COVID vaccines. Experiences from practitioners in four states highlight the hope and excitement at vaccination centers across the country.

In the article, MSK’s Dr. Allison Betof Warner discusses how the pandemic shifted the focus of her work from melanoma treatment and research to COVID care. She is now vaccinating staff and cancer patients, and has found the experience rewarding and emotional:

“The opportunity to really be part of the solution and be on the frontline, not only caring for these patients, but now fixing the problem and helping prevent more patients from getting COVID —  this is why you go to medical school. These are the moments that you dream about.”

For the most up-to-date information on COVID vaccination at MSK, visit MSK will contact patients directly when they can schedule vaccination.

Demand, Supply, and COVID Vaccination

The United States is behind its stated goals of vaccinating the population. This has inspired conversations about how and whether to stretch the vaccine supply to reach more people more quickly. In an opinion piece for STAT, MSK’s Dr. Peter B. Bach presents these questions as opportunities for further research.

Dr. Peter Bach

Dr. Peter B. Bach, Director, Center for Health Policy and Outcomes.

Dr. Bach proposes that non-profit academic health centers administer the first dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines to staff members, then give them the opportunity to opt into a randomized study. Participants would either receive the second dose as scheduled or a placebo. Researchers would follow the participants to see whether rates of infection differed starting one week after the second injection. Participants who received the placebo would get the second dose once the infection rates differed, allowing further data on the effectiveness of delaying the second dose.

Have questions about COVID vaccines? Dr. Elizabeth Robilotti offers answers on the MSK website.