NOT Likely Cancer: Doctors Say Not to Worry About Breast Lumps After COVID Vaccine

Photo: (Photo : National Cancer Institute / Unsplash)

Doctors are comparing notes and finding a common problem showing up on mammogram results. However, the healthcare experts say some things in common about the breast lumps — they are not likely related to breast cancer. Instead, it is a side effect of the COVID vaccine.

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Health Experts Discover Lumps after Getting Vaccinated

Chiropractor Beth Nokken noted waking up to unexpected lumps near her armpit on the same arm where she got her first dose of COVID vaccine a few days ago. "I found one the size of a golf ball," the chiropractor noted. But, she had already done her research and knew swollen lymph nodes could be the body's natural response to vaccination, Wave3 reported.

Dr. Devon Quasha, a primary care physician in Boston, found a lump in her left breast when she did a routine self-check. The physician then scheduled an ultrasound and diagnostic mammogram. But a week before her scheduled mammogram, the doctor received her first Covid-19 shot. As her mammogram appointment came close, her left arm began to hurt, and swollen lumps started to develop under her left pit and swelling above her collarbone.

The areas where the lumps formed are areas where lymph nodes are. There are invader-fighting immune cells in lymph nodes. Quasha noted that the lumps could be the nodes reacting to the Covid vaccine as it is designed to build antibodies, CNN reported. Further, the lumps only developed on the left side, where she got vaccinated. Quasha's doctor decided to delay the biopsy and scheduled a follow-up ultrasound in 6 weeks.

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Breast Lumps More Common in Mammograms as Side Effect of Covid Vaccine

Nokken and Dr. Quasha's experiences are not a rare case, as similar scenarios have been noted in mammogram centers across the country. Chief of breast imaging in Massachusetts General's department of radiology, Dr. Connie Lehman, said that radiologists began talking about the appearance of lumps on mammograms following a Covid vaccination. "It spread like wildfire as more and more women were showing nodes on mammograms," noted the radiologist.

As a result, the Society of Breast Imaging gave an advisory to radiologists to ask patients about their COVID status, when they got vaccinated, and which arm, among other important details, before scheduling a biopsy.

Dr. Lars Grimm, an associate professor of radiology at Duke University School of Medicine, said that the default would have been to recommend a biopsy after seeing swollen lymph nodes. But, if it is a side effect of the COVID vaccine, a biopsy may not be necessary. Radiologist Lehman agreed, saying, "Swollen lymph nodes on the same side of the arm vaccinated is a normal biological response that does not require imaging."

Quasha noted feeling relief after knowing many women experienced the same reaction to the vaccine. She and her doctor also agreed the follow-up screening was no longer necessary. "I felt reassured. There are a number of side effects of the COVID vaccine, which are not dangerous but may increase patient anxiety," the physician noted.

Radiologists are advised to focus on scheduling women who have overdue or missed mammograms due to the pandemic lockdown. Doctors said the lymph nodes' reaction to the vaccine had caused false scares and unnecessary biopsies. SBI recommends scheduling routine, annual breast screening, or mammograms before getting vaccinated. For those who already received their COVID-19 shots, doctors advise waiting at least 4-6 weeks after the second shot before scheduling a mammogram.

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COVID Vaccine and Cancer-Like Symptoms

It should be noted that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for COVID-19 can cause swollen lymph nodes, in particular, near the armpit area on the same side of the vaccination. Women, in particular, who are used to doing routine self-checks may mistake the lymph nodes for breast lumps. Further, as the swollen lymph nodes will show up on mammograms even if they cannot be felt, the Society of Breast Imaging advised postponing mammograms for women who recently got vaccinated.

Post-vaccine swelling of lymph nodes is common and harmless. Though, doctors noted that it causes undue fear among their patients. Further, the lymph nodes can cause a false positive result on a mammogram, WebMD noted. Doctors noted that the swollen lymph nodes should go away 3-4 weeks after the second shot. However, women can consult their doctor if there are other issues accompanying the swollen lymph nodes, such as:

1. Swelling of part of the breast
2. Redness or flaky skin around the breast or nipple area
3. Dimpling and irritation of breast skin
4. Nipple discharge, including blood
5. Pain in the nipple area or any area of the breast

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