One of the leading symptoms of breast cancer is lumps. Lumps in or around the breast are the first signs that have women (and men) concerned. That’s why it’s often pushed that we should self-check our breasts often. But what if those lumps are not caused by breast cancer and could be a good sign for something else?
Researchers found that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can cause lymph nodes to swell, particularly those in the armpit on the side where the shot was received. But that swelling or “lumps” are actually a good thing, experts say.
Some women are feeling these armpit lymph nodes and mistaking them for breast lumps, according to a recent report.
Further, these swollen lymph nodes can show up in a mammogram even if women can’t feel them. That prompted the Society of Breast Imaging to recommend that women postpone any mammography scheduled within four weeks after their final COVID-19 shot.
“We have been seeing swollen lymph nodes for a couple weeks now,” said Dr. Holly Marshall with University Hospitals.
Marshall says breast radiologists have encountered axillary adenopathy, also known as swollen lymph nodes, on screening mammograms of patients who have been vaccinated.
It’s a surprising side effect that could be mistaken for breast cancer.
“It’s actually a normal response that the body has to the vaccine,” said Marshall.
Marshall says doctors made the discovery because the lymph nodes seen under the arm are included on a mammogram. Patients can also feel them.
Marshall says the swollen lymph nodes are on the same side as the placement of the vaccine.
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“We also see swollen lymph nodes in patients with breast cancer, so that’s the concern there. So we are asking everybody who is having a mammogram if they had the COVID-19 vaccine, what dose, when, and what side?” said Marshall.
Marshall says UH’s Radiology and Breast Cancer Imaging Department has received increased calls from women concerned over the signs.
“It means that the body is making antibodies to fight the COVID-19 infection,” said Marshall.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, over 11 percent of vaccine recipients experience swollen lymph nodes after one dose, and 16 percent do so after the second dose.
These “reactive” nodes, as they’re called, vary in size and location. When they form in the underarm region, they appear very similar to a cancer from the breast that has traveled to other parts of the body. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, when breast cancer spreads, it goes through a customary path, out from the tumor and first into the surrounding lymph nodes, before progressing throughout the body.
True Breast Cancer Symptoms
According to the CDC, some general warning signs of breast cancer are—