Don’t panic – This COVID-19 vaccine side effect isn’t breast cancer

Don’t panic – This COVID-19 vaccine side effect isn’t breast cancer

A possible side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine is causing unnecessary fear among women, creating worry that they may have breast cancer.

Enlarged lymph nodes (axillary lymphadenopathy) in the injected arm have been reported as a side effect in women who have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Swollen lymph nodes are indicative of appropriate antibody response to the COVID-19 vaccine and should not produce fear that the vaccine is unsafe,” says Dr. Nila Alsheik, Chair of Breast Imaging at Advocate Aurora Health Care. “When patients present for their breast imaging appointment, their technologists will ask into which arm they received the vaccine. This will prevent unnecessary callbacks from screening mammograms and allow for appropriate follow up.”

To ensure accurate results, new guidelines recommend scheduling routine screening mammograms or whole breast screening ultrasound before the first COVID-19 vaccine or four weeks following the second vaccine dose. The post-vaccine lymph node swelling may trigger a false positive on a mammogram and may prompt the need for additional imaging.

“Women who demonstrate breast cancer symptoms such as a new palpable area in the breasts, breast skin changes, new nipple discharge, etc. should not postpone their mammogram regardless of the timing of COVID-19 vaccination,” says Dr. Heidi Memmel, breast surgeon at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. “Patients with symptoms following their vaccine should call their doctor to determine next steps.”

Additionally, patients who had breast cancer and removed lymph nodes in their arm should request the COVID-19 vaccine in the opposite arm. If lymph nodes were removed from both arms, then the recommendation is to get the vaccine in their backside.

Click here for more information about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

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  1. Ronald F Muellner February 19, 2021 at 1:12 pm · Reply

    I don’t have to worry about side affects because Aurora Advocate doesn’t seem to be able to get my wife and I’s 84 & 85 year old bodies a vaccine.

  2. Is it imperative that you get both shots in the same arm? Not knowing that I should not have gotten the first shot in the arm where lymph nodes have been removed I got it there. Should I get the second shot in the opposite arm?

    • Corrine Zoellick February 22, 2021 at 4:09 pm · Reply

      I have the same question as M. Fleck. Is it imperative that you get the 2nd shot in the same arm as the 1st. I had a total mastectomy 50 years ago with lymph nodes removed. Having had a series of B12 shots and a flu shot during the last 2 months, on my left arm, I asked if I could have the vaccine on the right arm, the side of the mastectomy. The person administering the shot said she thought it would be okay since it has been 50 years. Can I get the 2nd shot on the right arm?

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About the Author

Neda Veselinovic
Neda Veselinovic

Neda Veselinovic, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. She has more than five years of public relations experience and most recently worked with clients in the travel and hospitality industries. She prefers to spend her time with a cup of coffee and a good read and always welcomes book recommendations.