Don’t Be Alarmed By Swollen Lymph Nodes Following Vaccine

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If you’ve recently been vaccinated for COVID-19 and notice a lump in your armpit near the site of the injection, don’t get alarmed. It’s likely a swollen lymph node which occurs in up to 15 percent of people, both women and men, following vaccination, says surgeon Thomas Heck, MD.

Lymph nodes can become swollen following any shot or vaccine, explains Dr. Heck. “It usually happens two to four days after being vaccinated. It’s a normal reaction, so I would caution you not to become alarmed.”

But do contact your doctor for advice, he suggests.

If you get swollen lymph nodes as a reaction to the vaccine, it’s likely they’ll go away on their own within a few weeks. Dr. Heck says, “There’s nothing you can do to make them go away more quickly. It just takes time.”

If You’ve Had Breast Cancer

Swollen lymph nodes can be especially alarming, but no less likely to be serious, if you’ve had breast cancer. As a breast surgeon, Dr. Heck says “I’d still want to examine any breast cancer patient who develops a swollen lymph node, just to be sure it’s not a sign that the cancer has returned.” If you’re a breast cancer survivor who has not yet been vaccinated, Dr. Heck suggests you get the vaccine in the arm on the opposite side of your body from the cancerous breast. “That way, if your lymph nodes become swollen, it will help your doctor to better determine the possible cause.”

If you’ve had cancer in both breasts, Dr. Heck recommends you get the vaccine in your thigh instead of your arm.

What NOT To Do

“Don’t skip the vaccine because you’re worried about swollen lymph nodes,” Dr. Heck emphasizes. “I recommend that everyone get the vaccine.” 

And, swollen lymph nodes or not, please don’t let the virus or vaccine delay your annual mammogram, he adds. “The vaccine, or swollen lymph nodes, won’t change the image of your breast tissue during a mammogram. If you want to wait a few weeks after your second vaccine to get your mammogram, that’s fine. But definitely don’t skip it!”

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