CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Because of a newly discovered COVID-19 vaccine side effect, doctors are now recommending women wait to get their regularly scheduled mammograms until weeks after receiving both doses.
Within days of getting her final COVID-19 vaccine, Tara Kettlewell, an ultrasound supervisor at Roper St. Francis, said she noticed a concerning pain near the side of her breast and armpit.
“I got my second vaccine this past Saturday,” Kettlewell said. “You could notice a fullness and swelling. A lot of pain to the point that relaxing my arm at my side was hurting.”
For some, the swelling of lymph nodes, also known as Axillary adenopathy, can be taken as a symptom of breast cancer.
“We do pay attention to adenopathy as a sign potentially of breast cancer,” Roper St. Francis doctor Amy Deaton said. “It’s just what your body does when it’s challenged. So what we have to do when we see that is we have to work it up.”
But in Kettlewell’s case, the swelling actually came as a side effect of the vaccine she just received.
“I hadn’t seen it where the lymph nodes were this inflamed so it was just one of those things where I was like, oh so this really does happen,” Kettlewell said.
Deaton said the hospital is seeing more women coming in with the same issue, mistaking the side effect for a breast cancer symptom.
“So, that creates a considerable amount of anxiety and extra cost to work up something that in all likelihood is a benign process expected post having a vaccine injection,” Deaton said.
Since the side effect can deliver abnormal mammograms, the Society of Breast Imaging recommends women schedule their regular screenings either before or 4 to 6 weeks after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
“As long as they come in for their screening mammogram at the appropriate time pre or post vaccine then we can assume that anything that we see after that point would be something that we would need to work up,” Deaton said.
Kettlewell said if it wasn’t for her job, she would have never known that her pain was actually coming from the vaccine.
“However, for somebody who doesn’t have any familiarity with this situation, it might be something that would alarm them,” Kettlewell said. “I definitely think more people need to know about this until our radiologist sent more information to us about it, we were unaware.”
However, Deaton says women who are having other breast cancer symptoms or concerns should still come in to get looked at.
“If patients are diagnostic and they’re having issues, like they have a mass, we don’t recommend waiting to have that worked up,” Deaton said. “So, this purely relates to the screening mammography.”
The Society of Breast Imaging says lymph nodes rarely swell after other injections like the Flu vaccine, but the side effect is seen at higher rates following the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 doses.