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Some women finding lumps after covid shot, but experts say it’s likely not breast cancer

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 6:14 PM CST
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - The COVID-19 vaccine is causing fear for some women in the Valley, as their post-shot side effects are mimicking those of breast cancer.

Just a few days after Beth Nokken got her first dose of the covid vaccine, she woke up to unexpected lumps near her armpit.

“And one was the size of a golf ball. So that can be extremely concerning to someone!” she said.

While it was a surprise to find the swollen lymph node, Nokken, a chiropractor, said thankfully she had done her research and knew it was a possibility.

“Swollen lymph nodes are something that occurs as a body’s natural response to building up antibodies, or a response to a vaccine,” Sanford Health’s Lead Physician of Mammography Dr. Allison Clapp said.

“So, they’ll swell in response to that to try to help your body to prevent the infection from getting further into your bloodstream,” Essentia Health’s Dr. Richard Vetter said.

Clapp says the swelling will show up in your mammogram, but says that’s no reason to cancel an upcoming appointment. Instead, she says to just let your doctor know which arm you got your vaccine in and they’ll handle the rest.

“As radiologists, we see this on mammograms after people have had the flu vaccine, the shingles vaccine, the pneumococcal vaccine so this isn’t unusual to us,” Clapp said.

Nokken says she already had a mammogram scheduled for the week after her first dose. She says she told her technician that she had the swelling, and assumed it was due to her vaccine.

“Because of the way it looked, they were concerned and wanted me to come back and do some follow-up testing,” Nokken said. She said her follow-up appointment showed less swelling, and will have a final check-in later this spring.

“I couldn’t just push it to the side and pretend that it was nothing because I think it’s important to make sure that everything is ok,” Nokken said.

Clapp and Vetter say the reaction can be seen after either doses, but say the swelling will only be found on the side of the arm you got your shot in.

“It would be very unusual to see it on the other side. If we saw it on both arms, that’s definitely something we would want to work up and it probably would be less likely to be due to a vaccine, and something more is going on there,” Clapp said.

Clapp says it could take anywhere from four to six weeks for the swelling to disappear, but urges if you’re concerned, it’s never a bad idea to contact your doctor.

Clapp also says Fargo’s Sanford location has only seen between three to five patients with these symptoms after their vaccine. She says only a handful of people will develop more swollen lymph nodes than others, with about 10 percent of those from the Moderna vaccine and five percent with the placebo.

Nokken says while it is a more uncommon side effect, it’s important women are aware and prepared ‘so that they don’t go through the scare; the cancer scare that is not necessary whatsoever.’

Both Clapp and Vetter urge you to contact your primary care doctor with any side effects you experience after your COVID-19 vaccine, as it helps local doctors and the CDC better understand and keep track of how prevalent various symptoms are.

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