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.
About the Author
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.