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COVID-19 vaccine can cause false positive breast cancer signs

Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 7:52 AM MDT
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The COVID-19 vaccine is causing swollen lymph nodes surrounding the breasts in some women, something that is also considered a sign of breast cancer.

Experts say, swelling caused by the vaccine looks similar to swelling caused by breast cancer in mammogram images, making it hard to differentiate between the two causes.

“Shortly after the first round of vaccines started to come out, we started noticing lymphadenopathy, or enlargement of the lymph nodes,” says Jason Allen, UCHealth’s Southern Region Breast Imaging Medical Director.

Lymph nodes enlarge typically on the same side of the body that the vaccine was given. For example, a woman who received her COVID-19 vaccine in her left shoulder muscle would likely see the lymph nodes swell surrounding her left breast. Allen says, “In the absence of having had a vaccine on that side, that can be a suspicious finding. It can mean there’s cancer or something else might be wrong.”

Medical experts say, the swelling goes down after about 4 to 6 weeks, and it is a common side effect of other vaccines too. Experts recommend women schedule mammograms for before they’re scheduled to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“That will eliminate the possibility that you will have a false positive,” Allen says.

If that’s not possible, experts say women without a high breast cancer risk should wait 4 to 6 weeks after getting vaccinated before coming in for a mammogram.

Women who are high risk should not delay because of their vaccine scheduling. Allen says, “If she’s high risk, and she’s not able to coordinate the timing of her vaccine with her mammogram, absolutely come in. We don’t want anybody to wait.”

Experts should go over a woman’s vaccine history when having a mammogram. That can help experts rule out the possibility of the COVID-19 vaccine having caused cancer-like symptoms. Additional medical tests may be suggested by your doctor.

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