Breast cancer screenings and COVID-19; What you need to know

Updated: Feb. 19, 2021 at 8:51 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Doctors have been preaching to keep up with your annual checkups, and to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Something to be aware of though, your body can have a temporary response to the vaccine that may mimic breast cancer or lymphoma, especially on the side where you got your shot.

Chrissy Martin is an oncology nurse and as fate would have it, an oncology patient.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 years ago at age 43. Now, she does everything she can to stay healthy, including getting her COVID-19 vaccine.

Chrissy said she noticed something different a week after her first shot though.

“I noticed a lump in my collar bone. I assumed it was a lymph node. It was pretty significant and tender to the touch, so I got a little concerned,” Martin said.

Did her body react to the vaccine, or was her breast cancer back?

“The first thing you think of is, that’s not good,” she added.

To rule out a breast cancer recurrence or even lymphoma, the tests began.

“Ultrasound came back questionable. Most likely, reactive. Don’t rule out a malignancy. So we went to a CT scan and a biopsy.”

Radiologist Dr. Libby Shadinger performed the biopsy on the enlarged lymph node on Chrissy’s neck.

Thankfully, no cancer.

But Shadinger and other radiologists around the country are seeing more and more “Chrissy’s” and making a direct correlation between the approved COVID-19 vaccines and this specific immune system response: swollen lymph nodes, normally on the same, vaccinated side.

“We are seeing it from up under the arm, up into the neck. We are probably seeing about 10 times the normal amount of prominent lymph nodes on a screening mammogram,” Shadinger noted.

This response has become so common, that the Society of Breast Imaging issued patient guidance.

Statement from the SBI:

“If possible, and when it does not unduly delay care, consider scheduling screening exams prior to the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination or 4-6 weeks following the second dose.”

So, get your COVID-19 vaccines, but get them before your annual mammogram, or one to two months after your last shot.

For Chrissy, the swelling eventually went away after both shots.

“Relieved? Yeah, definitely. Little scared at first, but definitely relieved and I’m happy I got my vaccine. I think it will definitely help in the future,” Chrissy told me.

Positive signs, from a negative biopsy.

So again, get your COVID vaccine when it is your turn, but ladies, get your annual mammogram before your shots, or well after.

If your lymph nodes swell after your shot, and you’re concerned, call your doctor to discuss, especially if the swelling doesn’t go away after a few days.

Chrissy’s did, because it was simply an immune response.

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