05/19/2021 / By Divina Ramirez
The new coronavirus vaccines have a number of side effects that are expected to occur following the shots. One of those side effects is swollen lymph nodes.
These swollen lymph nodes have become a cause of concern among radiologists. Emily Sonnenblick, a breast imaging radiologist at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said they have observed swollen lymph nodes in the armpits of many women who received COVID-19 vaccines.
Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are central to the body’s immune response. They typically swell in response to a foreign substance entering the body, such as a vaccine or a pathogenic virus.
Enlarged lymph nodes can also be a sign of cancer. Women with breast cancer may get swollen lymph nodes in their armpit or around their chest. Breast imaging radiologists look for these changes when checking for breast cancer.
However, isolated lymph nodes in the absence of a breast cancer diagnosis are a rare first sign of cancer, said Sonnenblick. Therefore, the presence of swollen lymph nodes following inoculation against the coronavirus may greatly complicate breast cancer screenings or even result in a false diagnosis.
Clayton Taylor, a breast imaging radiologist with the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center in Ohio, said it is still too soon to know just how common swollen lymph nodes are after a COVID-19 vaccination. (Related: French infectious disease expert warns about dangers of COVID-19 vaccine.)
It is also unclear how these swollen lymph nodes trigger a false-positive result of mammogram screenings. A mammogram is an X-radiation imaging method used to examine the breast for the early detection of cancer and other breast diseases.
What is clear, however, is that swollen lymph nodes associated with COVID-19 vaccination have already led to false-positive mammogram results. Jerome Schroeder, director of breast imaging at The Breast Care Center at St. Joseph Hospital in Denver, said his colleagues have seen one or two cases of false-positive results.
Meanwhile, Monica Yepes, chief of breast imaging and director of breast imaging services at the University of Miami Health System, had to console one of her patients who came in for a mammogram screening.
The screening revealed several enlarged lymph nodes inside the patient, who came for her screening six days after receiving the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Yepes asked her patient to come in for another screening in April to determine whether the enlarged lymph nodes are cancerous.
Other radiologists in South Florida are also reporting similar cases among patients who have been recently vaccinated. Amy Allen, manager of the Capital Regional Comprehensive Breast Center in Tallahassee, Florida, said many patients have come in for their mammogram screenings, which showed swollen lymph nodes.
It is important that women get themselves checked for breast cancer as soon as possible to curb its onset. But with physicians reporting swollen lymph nodes following COVID-19 vaccination, health experts now recommend that women delay their screenings for at least four weeks after receiving a shot of the vaccine to avoid a false-positive result.
However, delaying mammogram screenings can have serious consequences for women who have undetected breast cancer. Most types of breast cancer are invasive, which means the cancer cells can spread to bones and tissues in different parts of the body. The more breast cancer spreads, the harder it will be to treat it.
Allen advises patients to come in for a mammogram in case of any signs or symptoms of any type of abnormality.
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