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Doctors warn about COVID-19 vaccine side effects, but still encourage people to keep up with routine exams

Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 3:38 PM CST
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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - As more community COVID-19 vaccination clinics open and the next round of people eligible to receive the shot approaches, doctors are warning of a side effect that could be confused with a more serious illness.

Pain and swelling in the arm, fatigue, fever, chills, and headaches -- those are some of the more common side effects associated with the COVID-19 vaccine, but not all of them. In both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine, some women are also experiencing swollen lymph nodes in the armpit of the arm in which they received the vaccine.

According to Dr. Alexander Starr, an oncologist and hematologist at ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center, “It causes an inflammatory response, and lymph nodes drain, not just cancer, they drain infections and so on.”

While just a side effect of the vaccine, the same symptom in someone who hasn’t been vaccinated could be a sign of a malignancy or cancer. This type of swelling is often detected during in a routine mammogram.

“A viral infection can easily mimic malignancy in the axilla or the armpit,” says Dr. Starr.

A mammogram, however, won’t be able to detect the difference between the side effect swelling or a more serious issue. So, the the CDC is recommending people pay close attention to when they get a mammogram in relation to when they get vaccinated.

Dr. Starr adds, “That’s why it’s important, based on new guidelines, that if you are going to get a mammogram you should get a mammogram prior to getting a vaccine or four to six weeks after the second dose of the vaccine.”

That timing could protect people from having to go through unnecessary medical procedures, like a biopsy, as the side effect swelling should be gone within a few weeks after getting vaccinated. Doctors says this recommendation isn’t a pass to forgo routine examines, as those types of appointments remain important for diagnosis and treatment.

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