Fourteen leading experts said swollen lymph nodes are only seen in around 0.03 per cent of pre-Covid mammograms. When they are detected, they are cancerous between 20 and 56 per cent of the time.
Mammograms are picking up swelling in women’s breasts following the Covid-19 vaccine, raising ‘unnecessary’ fears about cancer, radiologists say
- Doctors are finding that the vaccine often causes swelling in lymph nodes
- These are being detected in ultrasound and mammogram breast cancer screens
- Experts are now urging doctors to not immediately take a biopsy
- Lymph node swelling is not a commonly seen side-effect for other vaccines
PUBLISHED: 13:15 GMT, 3 March 2021 | UPDATED: 13:30 GMT, 3 March 2021
Dr Devon Quasha works as a physician in Boston and found a lump in her left breast during a routine self-screen.
She subsequently scheduled a mammogram and an ultrasound to investigate.
One week before her imaging appointment she got her first Covid-19 vaccine, the Moderna jab.
Shortly after her inoculation her left arm began to hurt and then several swollen lumps appeared around her left armpit and around the collar bone on her left side.
Dr Quasha was told by her radiologist that although the breast lump was likely harmless, the swollen nodes would, under normal conditions, be concerning.
Such a discovery would normally warrant further investigation and an immediate biopsy where a small piece of tissue is removed and sent off for analysis.
But due to the recent vaccination Dr Quasha and her doctor decided to hold off on this and instead booked a follow-up ultrasound in six weeks.
Dr Connie Lehman, head of breast imaging in Massachusetts General’s department of radiology, told CNN: ‘We all started talking about it, and it was like a wildfire.
‘I cannot tell you how many women are showing nodes on mammograms and people thought it was going to be not that common.’
‘There have been some false scares and some unnecessary biopsies because people didn’t think to ask, and they assume that the node was the cancer coming back,’ she adds.
Such was the scale of the issue of biopsies being done following mammograms and ultrasounds which revealed harmless lymph node lumps brought on by the vaccine that the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) in January urged clinicians to hold off.
Mammograms pick up swelling due to Covid-19 vaccine, causing unnecessary fear, radiologists say
By Sandee LaMotte, CNN
Updated 0351 GMT (1151 HKT) March 3, 2021
(CNN)When she found a lump in her left breast during a routine self-check, Boston primary care physician Dr. Devon Quasha knew exactly what to do. She immediately scheduled a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound at Massachusetts General Hospital for early January.
Then the Moderna vaccine became available to health care professionals in the city. She received her first Covid-19 shot about a week before her scheduled mammogram.
Quasha didn’t notice much of a reaction to the vaccine at first, but a couple of days before her appointment her left arm began to hurt.Tender, swollen lumps developed under her left armpit, along with a large swelling above her collarbone — all areas where there are lymph nodes, the body’s filters for germs.
“You have lymph nodes above and below your collarbone,” Quasha said. “You don’t want to feel those. It was scary when I felt it.
“Lymph nodes contain immune cells that help fight invaders. That’s whyit made sense to Quasha that the nodes were reacting to the vaccine, building antibodies as they were designed to do. But she couldn’t be sure.The swelling was only on the left side where she had gotten the shot — the same side as the worrisome lump. Was it a reaction to the vaccine or another sign of breast cancer?
‘It was like a wildfire’
After the ultrasound, Quasha’s radiologist was concerned. She told Quasha she considered the lump she had felt in her breast to be of little significance, but the lymph nodes that showed up as white blobs on her mammogram were another matter.In non-pandemic times, that finding would set off alarm bells, requiring the need for further investigation, even an immediate biopsy. Yet Quasha had just had the vaccine. After talking it over with her, Quasha said her doctor decided not to do a biopsy at that time. Instead she told Quasha to come back for a follow-up ultrasound in six weeks.
Similar scenarios had been happening in mammogram centers around the country. As radiologists compared notes with colleagues, word began to spread.
“We all started talking about it, and it was like a wildfire,” said Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of breast imaging in Massachusetts General’s department of radiology.
“I cannot tell you how many women are showing nodes on mammograms and people thought it was going to be not that common,” said Lehman, who is also a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.
Tales of unnecessary biopsies spurred the patient care committee of the Society of Breast Imaging (SBI) to put out an advisory in January: Ask your patients about their Covid-19 status, and record the date and which arm received the vaccine. Consider that before automatically scheduling a biopsy.
“We wanted to advocate that women don’t always need to have a biopsy,” said Dr. Lars Grimm,associate professor of radiology at Duke University School of Medicineand one of the authors of the SBI advisory.
“Because oftentimes the default if you see swollen lymph nodes in a patient would actually be to recommend doing a biopsy.”Mass General’s Lehman agreed.
“When you hear hoofbeats, don’t think zebra,” she said. “If a woman had a vaccine in the arm on the same side, and the lymph nodes are swollen, this is a normal biological response. It’s totally expected. It just doesn’t make sense to start imaging.”