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COVID-19 vaccine side effect can mimic sign of breast cancer

COVID-19 vaccine and breast cancer
Posted at 9:08 PM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 13:11:06-05

PHOENIX — Banner Imaging is seeing more and more women concerned with their health after developing swollen lymph nodes in their breast area.

Doctors say the recent spike is actually linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.

"My first thought was, it's a lump. It's a lump on the side of my breast. So, my brain immediately went there,” says Liz Melander, who experienced an enlarged lymph node.

Melander was thinking of her children at that very moment, hoping it was not a sign of breast cancer.

“I started feeling the tenderness and then I was able to actually palpate an enlarged lymph node, or at least what I was assuming was a lymph node. It felt about the size of a blueberry,” says Melander.

Melander asked a nurse practitioner to examine the lump after dealing with it for nearly a week. She mentioned that she had recently received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Do you think that it could possibly be related? I haven't heard of that being a side effect yet. She said that she had heard of it and immediately when she said that I was thinking, ‘alright, we're good. No need to panic,'” says Melander.

This side effect is not specific to the COVID vaccine, but Banner Imaging says it is more frequent than what they have seen historically with other vaccines.

"When we do an ultrasound, there's a typical appearance of lymph nodes that are inflamed or reactive that we see. But yes, it can range in size... just like from the spectrum of getting no lymph nodes, to small, to larger lymph nodes - that can range,” says Dr. Threasa Frouge, Chief Medical Officer of Banner Imaging.

Dr. Frouge says it’s a sign that the body is working to make antibodies and build resistance. The enlarged lymph nodes should only last a few days or weeks before going away.

"Obviously, what we always want to make sure is that it's not cancer or lymphoma,” says Dr. Frouge.

Early detection is key. Dr. Frouge recommends anyone with a breast complaint to get checked out and inform the provider whether you have recently received the COVID-19 vaccine. Banner Imaging is also following new mammogram guidelines.

"People that are coming in for their screening exams, if you can schedule it before the vaccine or four weeks after, that's optimal... because then we don't have to worry about seeing the lymph nodes,” says Dr. Frouge.

Banner Imaging says they have seen a decline in patients coming in to get their annual mammogram because of the pandemic. They stress that it is a safe environment and not to wait.