COVID-19 Vaccine Side-Effect Mimics Breast Cancer

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Women are presenting with swollen lymph nodes after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine; mistaking the side-effect for breast cancer.

In an interview with CNN, Dr Devon Quasha recounted her recent breast cancer scare following vaccination with a COVID-19 vaccine. According to Dr Quasha, she had scheduled a mammogram after noticing a lump in her left breast. However, around her appointment time, the Moderna vaccine became available to healthcare workers in her city. She ended up receiving the first dose a week before her mammogram appointment. A couple of days later she began to notice swollen lymph nodes under her left armpit and along her collarbones.

Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped structures located throughout the body. They are part of the body’s immune system and filter out harmful substances. They contain immune cells that help fight off infections by attacking germs. Swollen lymph nodes can indicate injury, infection, or cancer. Moreover, in breast cancer metastasis, lymph nodes in the armpits are the first to enlarge.

Hence, when Dr Quasha noticed the swollen lymph nodes along with her breast lump, her mind immediately went to the worst-case scenario. At her mammogram appointment, the nodes appeared as white blobs. Normally, doctors would go for a biopsy in such scenarios. However, Dr Quasha’s symptoms had appeared after the vaccination, and the swellings had only appeared on the side she got the vaccine. Therefore, doctors decided not to go ahead with a biopsy and instead scheduled another ultrasound for her in six weeks.

If a woman had a vaccine in the arm on the same side, and the lymph nodes are swollen, this is a normal biological response. It’s totally expected. It just doesn’t make sense to start imaging.

Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of breast imaging in Massachusetts General’s department of radiology
Swollen lymph nodes mimic breast cancer in women receiving COVID-19 vaccine.
Arrow showing swollen lymph nodes on mammogram after COVID-19 vaccine.

Schedule Mammograms Before COVID-19 Vaccine

According to Dr Connie Lehman, chief of breast imaging in Massachusetts General’s department of radiology, women across the country have been reporting similar scenarios. The swollen lymph nodes are a result of increased inflammation in the body as it produces antibodies against the virus. Lymph nodes in the armpits tend to swell as they’re closest to the site of injection. These swellings tend to appear a few days after vaccination and can stay for up to 12 weeks. Hence, swollen lymph nodes post-COVID-19 vaccine should not be confused with breast cancer.

Therefore, doctors are urging women to schedule their routine mammograms either before their vaccinations, or four to six weeks after receiving the vaccine.

If their concern is a swelling or tenderness after the vaccine in their armpit, we suggest that they wait four to six weeks, talk to their doctor, and if it persists, then we have them come in to do an evaluation of it.

Dr Connie Lehman, chief of breast imaging in Massachusetts General’s department of radiology.

However, this in no way means that people should skip their breast cancer screening. Skipping schedule mammograms can increase the risk of breast cancer and the chances of dying.

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