COVID-19 vaccine may lead to false alarm cancer screenings

HOUSTON – MD Anderson is advising patients to schedule some cancer screenings, if you can, before or six weeks after getting their COVID-19 vaccine.

Neuroradiologist Dr. Melissa Chen said almost daily they’re seeing patients that appear to have lumps on the imaging when, in reality, it’s just swelling from the vaccine.

Cathy Phillips Chelin is a proud wife, mother, and grandmother of 8. She is full of life but worried after a recent mammogram showed a questionable lump.

“The oncologist came into the room and she said, ‘Well, the mammogram of your breasts looks perfectly fine, but I’m concerned about something that I see in your left axilla,’” Chelin recounted.

Of course, she was terrified of what that could mean but as a former nurse, she started thinking about recent events that could affect the mammogram.

“I’m sitting there thinking what in the world could this be? Please, I hope it’s not lymphoma or some form of cancer, and then all of a sudden it occurred to me that eight days earlier I had had my COVID vaccine in my left arm and I thought maybe there’s a relationship there,” Chelin said.

She had a biopsy on a Friday and had to worry about it for days before getting confirmation that there was in fact no cancer.

Now, Chen warms about this false alarm. She said it can happen after any kind of vaccine, but even more so with the COVID-19 vaccine

“Nothing to this degree with such a large population, it is happening so frequently, and I don’t think it was as common that we saw it. For example, in the mammograms… and the workup that we saw in women,” Chen said. “But it was something that became very prevalent with the initial rollout of the vaccine.”

Chen said swollen lymph nodes that are apparent on imaging but not felt by the patient are a common side effect. Chen and Chelin both insist it is still necessary to get the vaccine.

“Oh, absolutely! No question about it, as soon as possible,” Chelin said.

Chen said it’s important for the public to know this is a normal side effect that can show up on images of the breast, lungs or thyroid.

So, don’t be alarmed, just be aware this can happen and disclose to your provider if you’ve recently gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.