COVID-19 and breast health: What you need to know

Brenda Moorthy, MD, a breast surgeon and independent member of the HonorHealth medical staff, discusses how COVID-19 has impacted care for breast health, what you should expect and new options for seeing your physician.

Q. What should people know about getting care during this time?

A: You can still seek healthcare. Every woman should do a monthly breast exam. If you have a new suspicious breast lump, nipple discharge, swelling or redness of the breast, dimpling of the skin, or nipple retraction, you should see your primary care physician and get a mammogram.

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should only leave home when necessary to get the needed consultations/imaging or treatment.

If you are currently receiving chemotherapy or radiation, you should continue to see your healthcare providers for these essential treatments.

If you are currently scheduled for breast cancer surgery, you should expect to have surgery performed in a timely manner.

Every facility is adhering to the CDC guidelines for protecting you through this process.

Q. Should women still schedule their annual mammograms?

A: Imaging facilities are still performing screening and diagnostic mammograms, including HonorHealth. If you feel a lump, or have signs or symptoms that require investigation, the imaging facility will perform mammogram, or ultrasound.

If the recommendation is for you to have a biopsy, the facility will either do the biopsy or your primary care physician will refer you to a breast surgeon. The facilities are following CDC guidelines, scheduling appointments to allow for social distancing, and doing more frequent cleaning. Some may have guidelines requiring COVID-19 testing before a procedure.

Please note: If you’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine, the Society of Breast Imaging recommends that you wait four to six weeks after vaccination before scheduling your mammogram.

Q. Should women be concerned if their screening mammograms are delayed by a couple months?

A: Delaying routine mammograms and breast cancer screenings by a few months might cause women some anxiety. However, such delays are unlikely to harm your long-term health. On the other hand, if you have a lump or symptoms, you should contact your physician and schedule a mammogram.

Q. Is it safe to go to a doctor’s office?

A: At HonorHealth, your safety is our priority. We require social distancing and limit the number of people in our waiting rooms. We only allow patients in the office and limit any family members to keep our environment as safe as possible. We require all patients to wear a face mask.

Q. Is going to a doctor’s office the only option?

A: If you are voluntarily or involuntarily quarantined or simply do not want to leave your home, you might have the option of a video visit with your doctor. Real-time telemedicine allows you to have a video appointment with your doctor, where you can talk to them just as you would in the office. For example, a surgeon might use telemedicine to provide a new consultation, second opinion or discuss test results. I have personally enjoyed doing video visits with my patients. It allows them to talk to me from the comfort of home.

Q. Should patients take extra precautions about going to the doctor’s office if they are not feeling well?

A: Absolutely. If you have any symptoms of a respiratory infection (cough or shortness of breath), severe cold or flu symptoms, fever, or suspect that you might have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 infection, please tell your primary care doctor about your symptoms or exposure before your appointment. You should postpone your breast health appointment until at least 2 weeks after you have fully recovered or 2 weeks after your last contact with a sick person. If you are currently receiving chemotherapy or targeted therapy, please notify your medical oncologist before postponing a medical oncology appointment so that he or she may come up with a game plan to adjust your medications and manage your care. Please do not put others at risk.

Q. For patients who have had breast cancer or are on a hormone blocker and being “watched,” is their immune system weaker and are they at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection?

A: Commonly used anti-estrogen medications like tamoxifen, anastrozole, letrozole and exemestane DO NOT weaken your immune system. Furthermore, merely having a recent history of breast cancer does not mean that your immune system is compromised.

If you are going through chemotherapy or immunotherapy, you should wear a mask at all times. In addition, a mask keeps you from touching your nose and mouth. If you are uncertain if you are on a medication that weakens your immune system, please ask your medical oncologist.

Q. What precautions are hospitals taking to protect patients who are having surgery?

A: If you are scheduled for surgery, you will be screened before coming to the hospital for your procedure. If you don’t have symptoms and are COVID-19 negative, you can proceed with your surgery.

Schedule your mammogram

Mammograms are offered at HonorHealth Breast Health & Research Centers, with three locations in the Phoenix area. To schedule, call 623-780-4673 or schedule online via your MyChart account.

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