Samantha was in the shower when she first felt it. There was a lump. It was near the side of her breast, just below her armpit.
Every woman knows—or should know—what this could mean.
“My aunt had breast cancer and is in remission,” Samantha said. “And there’s been other types of cancer on my paternal side. So I definitely thought this was something serious.”
She immediately texted her doctor:
“I think I might have breast cancer,” she typed.
“I panicked,” said Samantha, a psychotherapist who lives in California.
She couldn’t get an appointment to get the lump checked until the following week.
In the meantime, “I had trouble sleeping,” she said. “It’s not like I could easily forget about it. Every time I got dressed or moved my arm, it was there.”
An ultrasound test brought her massive relief. It wasn’t breast cancer. It was an enlarged lymph node. It was caused by the COVID-19 vaccination.
Samantha had gotten the shot a few days before noticing the lump.
Vaccination Side Effect Is Mistaken for Breast Cancer
This vaccine side effect has caused the same alarmed reaction in other women who fear they may have cancer, according to the journal Clinical Imaging. It recently detailed the cases of four women who sought breast cancer screening after getting the COVID vaccine.
One was a 59-year-old woman who found a lump in her left armpit. She was understandably distressed because she has a sister who is a breast cancer survivor. Like Samantha, a scan showed the lump was not cancerous.
Post-vaccine lymph node swelling is common and harmless, said Dr. Brett Parkinson. He is medical director of Intermountain Medical Center Breast Care Center in Murray, Utah.
It can happen to men as well as women. In fact, it happened to him, Dr. Parkinson said.
The swelling is actually a good sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine, he said. It almost always occurs on the same side as the arm in which you got the shot. And it typically happens two to four days after vaccination.
Post-Vaccine Breast Lump? Take a Deep Breath
Women who discover a post-vaccine lump near where they were injected, shouldn’t panic. In fact, they should wait to see if it goes away before coming in for a mammogram or another type of screening, Dr. Parkinson said.
“Take a deep breath,” he said. “If it goes away within three to four weeks, just come in for your regular (breast cancer) screening.”
Dr. Holly Marshall said the lymph node swelling seems to occur with both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines. She is a breast imaging specialist at Cleveland Medical Center.
“It’s a normal response to the vaccine,” she said. “It means your body is making antibodies.”
If the swelling doesn’t start to subside over a couple weeks, or at most, a couple of months, you should get screened, Dr. Marshall said.
“After a couple of months, if the lymph nodes have not decreased in size, we would want to take a look and do an ultrasound and make sure something else isn’t going on,” she said.
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