A small number of women have noticed enlarged lymph nodes after receiving the coronavirus vaccine and are mistaking them for a symptom of breast cancer, according to experts at Miami Cancer Institute. Should you be worried about those swollen, tender lumps?
“A few inflamed lymph nodes are not a sign of breast cancer,” says Jane Mendez, M.D., chief of breast surgery at Baptist Health’s Miami Cancer Institute. “Anyone who gets a vaccine in their arm is likely to experience some inflammation of the lymph nodes in the axilla, the region that includes the area from the armpit to the breast,” Dr. Mendez explains. “Some women feel a tender lump in their breast area and automatically assume it’s breast cancer. Most likely, it’s not, but your doctor can determine for sure if there’s a need for diagnostic imaging.”
What should you do if you notice your lymph nodes are swollen? “Don’t panic – roughly 10 to 15 percent of women receiving the coronavirus vaccine experience enlarged lymph nodes,” says Starr Mautner, M.D., also a breast surgical oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute. This isn’t a symptom of breast cancer, she says. “It’s simply your body’s natural response to the vaccine, just like when our body is fighting a cold or the flu.”
Drs. Mendez and Mautner both worry that talk of breast cancer symptoms may deter some women from getting the coronavirus vaccine, or that some may put off their annual mammogram because they just got the vaccine and don’t want the results to be skewed.”
“Women should still get their vaccine, and they should still get their mammograms,” Dr. Mautner says. “If the mammogram reveals an abnormality, then four weeks later we’ll do a repeat ultrasound of the axilla to make sure the lymph nodes are back to normal.”
For breast cancer patients about to undergo surgery, Dr. Mendez recommends holding off on getting the coronavirus vaccine immediately before or after their surgery. “Side effects of the vaccine could delay your surgery or be confused with an infection after your surgery,” she says. “If you’re scheduled to receive the vaccine at least a week before or a week after your surgery, you should be fine. Most side effects occur within 24 to 48 hours of vaccination.”
Patients undergoing chemotherapy, however, are immune-suppressed and at high risk for complications from COVID-19, Dr. Mendez says. “Chemo patients should get the vaccine as soon as it’s available to them,” she advises. “So should cancer survivors – those who’ve completed their treatment – because it will help them stay healthy.”