How the Covid-19 vaccine could cause changes in your mammogram results

A side-effect of vaccination has been known to cause swollen lymph nodes

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A side effect of the Coronavirus vaccine is thought to be causing unnecessary panic among women who are having mammogram scans.

Among the many side effects caused by the injections from the vaccines being given to prevent people from contracting the virus, there is one that is causing needless worry and that's swollen lymph nodes under the arm.

According to research carried out by the Cleveland Clinic, doctors are observing a sudden increase in mammograms showing swollen lymph nodes.

These swollen lymph nodes can also be indicative of breast cancer and while it doesn't mean the vaccine is causing an increase in breast cancer, it is a side effect that could make the mammogram result a worry for no reason.

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Covid vaccine changes in mammogram results, Cross section biomedical illustration of breast cancer tumour and lymph nodes requiring mastectomy procedure

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Millions of people are getting vaccinated every day and while concerns have arisen over severe side effects beyond the common fatigue, aches, and injection-site pain, reports of a swollen lymph node is a sign of an immune response to the coronavirus vaccine but this could be mistaken for breast cancer.

For instance, like a dry cough could be a covid-19 symptom, it could also be a sign your allergies are playing up. It's reported that swollen lymph nodes have only been found in those who received either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines - both of which use the technology called mRNA. 

Board-certified OB-GYN Kelly Culwell, MD, also known as “Dr. Lady Doctor,” told Refinery29, “Swollen lymph nodes can be a response to many different vaccines, including the COVID vaccine. It is a sign of your immune system kicking into gear to produce antibodies in response to the vaccine.”

So far, there have not been reports of these symptoms in people who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. According to The New York Times, Moderna’s study showed that 11.6% of patients reported swollen lymph nodes after the first dose, and 16% reported the symptom after the second dose. Pfizer-BioNTech recipients reported lower incidences, with only 0.3% of people saying they experienced swollen lymph nodes. But it was a recognized side effect in large trials of both vaccines.

What is the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes?

Covid vaccine changes in mammogram results, Anatomy of swollen lymph nodes

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Lymph nodes have a vital role to play in your body's ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. To do this they trap and filter the viruses, bacteria and other causes of illness before they can infect other parts of your body.

Lymph nodes are found all over the body, including in your neck, armpits, and your groin - and form part of larger immune system response, something which vaccines aim to elicit.

And while according to the Mayo Clinic, swollen lymph nodes are rarely a sign that you may have cancer, Nicole Williams, MD gynecologic surgeon and founder of The Gynecology Institute of Chicago says it's a little known common side effect of such vaccinations.

“Any vaccine that produces a robust immune response may cause temporary swelling of the nodes. In my opinion, it has not been mentioned so much since we have not performed vaccines on this scale ever in history. With so many people getting vaccinated, you will hear of more effects all at once,” she said. 

Why are swollen lymph nodes causing concern after Covid vaccination?

Covid vaccine changes in mammogram results, MAMMOGRAPHY RESULT

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When a vaccine is injected into the upper arm, the lymph nodes nearest the injection site commonly swell, but since they are the nodes closer to the breasts, it comes as no surprise that doctors would want to check it out further.

But because the side effect isn't listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, people could mistake the vaccine side-effect for one of breast cancer. Currently, the only side effects listed are pain, swelling, and redness in the arm where you received the vaccine, as well as fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, chills, fever, and nausea.

Should you re-schedule your mammogram if you've recently had a Covid vaccine?

When it comes to the Covid vaccine changes mammogram results, swollen lymph nodes from the vaccine usually disappear within a few days, but for some people, they can feel a little tender for up to 10 days. And on imaging tests, the lymph nodes may be visible for up to a month. So people are being advised to keep their mammogram appointments rather than delay but simply be aware that the radiologist could ask you to come back one month later for a reexamination should something come up on the scan.

But Dr. Culwell deciding to postpone a mammogram due to fears Covid vaccine changes mammogram results says it really depends on each individual. If it is a typical annual exam, she revealed experts are recommending that you either go before your first dose or wait six weeks after your second injection. 

“However, for some people, this would not be possible,” Dr. Culwell explained. “For instance, those that are being monitored closely for cancer recurrence during treatment. In those cases, informing the technician and radiologist of the recent vaccination would be important.”

But if you are still in doubt about Covid vaccine changes in mammogram results or anything else, talk to your doctor so that you can make the most informed decision.

Selina Maycock

Selina is a Senior Entertainment Writer with more than 15 years of experience in newspapers and magazines. She has covered all things Entertainment for GoodtoKnow, Woman&Home and My Imperfect Life. Before joining Future Publishing, Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism. She is fully NCTJ and NCE qualified and has 100wpm shorthand.