Many women are aware of how important breast cancer screenings are for detecting signs of the disease early on, but doctors recently released new guidelines in this era of COVID vaccines after some lookalike symptoms started popping up.
Swollen lymph nodes — a symptom that often leads to a cancer diagnosis — have been found in women who do not actually have cancer but have received the COVID vaccine recently.
“What we’re seeing is women who have gotten the COVID vaccine, we’re seeing some enlarged lymph nodes,” confirmed Assistant Professor at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Dr. Andrea Porpiglia.
“Which is a normal response to the vaccine. Our concern is we don’t want women to get worried or undergo unnecessary biopsies or imaging because of this.
“The lymph nodes are – the main purpose is they help, they harbor the T-Cells and B-Cells that help us fight infection,” she continued. “So, when you get the vaccine and you’re mounting an immune response and making these antibodies, the lymph nodes are naturally going to get larger. So, this is a normal response that we would expect to see with the vaccine.”
Dr. Brett Parkinson, the medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Breast Care Center, reiterated that before the vaccine, enlarged lymph nodes were a red flag.
“Whenever we see these on a normal screening mammogram we call those patients back, because it can either mean metastatic breast cancer which has traveled to the lymph nodes, or lymphoma or leukemia,” he told KTSU-TV.
“With the Moderna vaccine it’s about 11% after the first dose and 16% after the second dose. We believe it’s comparable for the Pfizer vaccine as well.”
Dr. Porpiglia said women who have received the vaccine may be able to feel a lump under their arms, but that if it’s related to the vaccine, it will disappear.
If the lump does not disappear, though, then she recommends it get checked out.
Both doctors urge women not to put off mammograms because of this potential issue, but they recommend you schedule a routine mammogram either before getting the vaccine or at least four weeks after getting it.
“Breast cancer kills women between 40 and 50,000 a year,” Parkinson said. “Many of those deaths are needless.
“I know that screening mammographies are the only test that has been shown over the last 30 to 40 years to decrease the death rate of breast cancer.”
The overall takeaway seems to be don’t cancel a mammogram, but plan around your vaccine if you’re getting one or tell the staff if you’ve recently had the vaccine to avoid unnecessary worry.
“We don’t want these patients to get a false positive to have this sort of alarm,” Parkinson said.
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