Swollen lymph nodes possible after COVID-19 vaccine, doctors working to clear cancer concerns

PITTSBURGH — Painful and swollen: That’s how a woman described the feeling in her underarm the day after she got the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A small percentage of people are experiencing swollen lymph nodes after getting the shots. Doctors are making sure that people don’t confuse the feeling with a possible cancerous lump.

“Like pain that I’ve never felt before,” said Sarah Leonardi.

Leonardi is a medical X-ray technician. She said within days, her lymph nodes were enlarged. She went to the emergency room and was screened for a possible clot.

“It’s actually a good sign that you have a good immune system and it’s responding to the shot,” said chief of women’s imaging at UPMC Magee Womens Hospital Dr. Margarita Zuley.

Zuley said about 10% of patients who received the vaccine reported swollen lymph nodes. It’s more commonly seen with the Moderna vaccine.

The enlarged lymph nodes are being picked up during routine mammograms, causing concerns that there is a cancerous lump.

“They were mimicking a possible malignancy and you know, that just blew my mind,” Leonardi said.

UPMC doctors want women to know that the vaccine can impact their mammogram. They said your best bet is to get it scheduled as soon as possible. If you already have a vaccine appointment, doctors said you should keep it but wait to schedule your mammogram until four weeks after your second dose.

Any swelling of the lymph nodes should subside within a week, doctors told Channel 11.