As the administration of COVID-19 vaccines expands throughout the country, women have been given conflicting information regarding some of the side effects and mammograms. Some women that have had one or both of the vaccines have experienced lymph node swelling which has caused panics that they made have breast cancer. Still others have experienced the swelling and have postponed their mammograms for fear of a false positive for cancer. Some in the medical community advise to not delay mammograms, no matter what post-vaccine symptoms are being experienced, while others are advising to delay. This lack of direct instruction is leaving women at risk for breast cancer detection.
Knowing the Lymph System
Part of the body’s immune system includes the integral lymph vessels and nodes. They collect fluid, waste materials, and other items such as bacteria and viruses that are within the tissues and not in the bloodstream. The lymph vessels have a watery clear fluid and act in similar ways as blood vessels. Lymph fluid uses white blood cells as a method to fight infections and the lymph nodes act to filter out substances that are harmful by using immune cells. Any injury, infection, or even cancer can can cause the area that contains the lymph nodes to swell when it goes into action filtering out bad cells. This is the signal that there is something going on and when women detect the enlargement of the lymph nodes, they fear the worst.
Why COVID-19 Vaccines Can Cause Lymph Node Swelling
The immune system has a series of reactions in the body when it detects a foreign invader. Even though you may receive the vaccine on the outside of your arm, some of the vaccine material can enter the lymph nodes in that local area. The lymph begin activation as their job in the immune system and can exhibit swelling or tenderness. What is important to note is that this type of response can happen with a number of vaccines as well as infections. This is one of the reasons a primary medical provider will check the status of your lymph nodes during an examination. Stimulation of the immune system in any situation near an injection site has the potential to make the lymph nodes swell. The good news is that the enlarging of the lymph nodes is an indication that the immune system is responding to the vaccine. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has an official list of possible side effects from the Pfizer or Modern COVID-19 vaccine as:• Pain in the arm where you received the shot• Swelling in the arm where you received the shot• Fever• Chills• Tiredness• HeadacheThe duration of the symptoms are dependent upon the individual, but lymph node swelling can typically extend to around a week or so. If the swelling continues past that point, the medical community advises that the patient contact their healthcare provider. The Society of Breast Imaging has released data that indicates 11.6% of patients given the COVID-19 Moderna vaccine had tenderness or swelling after the second dose and that the swelling only occurred in more than 1% of those in their clinical trials. These same symptoms did occur in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine but were rare.
Breast Cancer during the Pandemic
The Journal of the American Medical Association published a report that indicated that from Mar-Apr., 2020, the incidents of breast cancer were significantly reduced. Medical specialists believe that the lowered numbers are based on the fact that fewer women are coming in for the mammograms due to the pandemic. This is a potentially dangerous situation, especially for women that have a personal history of breast cancer. When it comes to breast cancer, a difference of 3-4 months can make an impact on how the cancer acts and even the level and treatments required. The sooner that breast cancer is detected the better the chances of early treatment so that it doesn’t metastasize. The American Cancer Society has indicated that:• Nearing 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this year.• Nearing 48,530 new cases of CIS (carcinoma in situ), an early form and non-invasive type of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year.• Nearing 42,170 women will die this year from breast cancer.
Mammograms and COVID-19
Radiology departments across the country have established safety, health, and sanitizing protocols to ensure that patients can receive their mammograms or other radiology procedures in environments that deter transmission of the COVID-19 virus. The Society of Breast Imaging has made recommendations that patients schedule their mammograms prior to getting the first COVID-19 vaccine or 4-6 weeks after receiving the second COVID-19 vaccine. The suggestion is being made with the added note that this consideration should be done as long as it doesn’t interfere with routine care. In a situation where a patient has already postponed a mammogram due to COVID-19 fears, it’s recommended that you consult with your radiology organization for advice. Stepping up and getting an overdue mammogram after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination that has induced a lymph node swelling response could lead to additional testing to ensure that the swelling is only due to the immune response. Always feel comfortable consulting with your healthcare provider as well as the radiology organization to get the best feedback and advice for treatment. Scheduling mammograms can save lives.