A Chance Discovery
- An Australian woman was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after receiving her COVID-19 vaccine because she noticed a lump in her neck and went to get it checked out. It turns out that the lump in her neck was a benign result of the vaccine, but when a doctor checked the other side of her neck, they found the cancer.
- Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the thyroid gland which is at the base of the neck. Symptoms may include a lump, swelling or pain in the neck, voice changes, trouble swallowing or breathing or even a constant cough.
- Some people who get a COVID-19 vaccine are experiencing swollen lymph nodes as a result. Swelling from vaccination is the body’s response to the vaccine. This is very different from the longer term swelling that can be associated with cancer.
- Speak to your doctor if you develop swollen lymph nodes that are painful or persist for more than one to two weeks.
A few days after Fane, a 26-year-old woman from Australia, received her COVID-19 vaccine in August, she was surprised to find a large lump on the right side of her neck.Read More
She immediately decided to see her doctor, and she’s thankful she did. Her doctor had her get an ultrasound which led to the conclusion that the lump was simply a harmless, enlarged lymph node caused by her body’s response to the vaccine.
But, thankfully, her radiologist decided to also check the left side to see if there was anything there. That’s when the doctor found a nodule. A biopsy on the left side of her neck reveled that it was, in fact, thyroid cancer that had likely been growing for six to 12 months prior. She was told she needed surgery to remove the tumor, but pandemic-related delays added a lot of stress to the situation.
“I was quite stressed in terms of how long it was all going to take — and in coming to terms with the fact the cancer was in me,” she said.
Luckily, a slot became available earlier than expected, and Fane had to wait less than a month for the procedure which was deemed successful. Doctors said the tumor was less than 0.59 inches and had not spread – likely because of the early diagnosis. Needless to say, Fane is grateful she received her vaccine when she did.
“I don’t believe in God, but I think that there’s someone out there absolutely looking out for me right now,” Fane said. “To have a shot and a reaction at the start of August, and then be diagnosed with cancer and have it out of me by the end of September – it shouldn’t happen that quickly during a pandemic.”
Now, Fane is encouraging others to get their vaccines.
“You never know what will come of it,” she said. “And you’ll be protecting the most vulnerable people in our community from serious illness – like me.”
Understanding Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the thyroid gland which is at the base of the neck and makes hormones that help regulate your metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.
Spotting thyroid cancer can often be difficult. Symptoms may include a lump, swelling or pain in the neck, voice changes, trouble swallowing or breathing or even a constant cough.
“Most people have no discrete symptoms — the majority of cases now are found incidentally,” Dr. Allen Ho, a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, tells SurvivorNet. “However, a sizeable number of people may first discover their cancer when they feel a bump on their neck. Other possible late symptoms include problems swallowing, the sensation of something in their throat, neck compression when laying flat or voice changes.”
The good news is that many of these possible symptoms, including lumps in the thyroid, are both common and commonly benign – but it never hurts to ask your doctor. Chances of cancer recovery increase significantly with early detection, so it’s important to address any warning signs of thyroid cancer, or any cancer for that matter, with a medical expert swiftly.
Swollen Lymph Nodes and COVID-19 Vaccination
Lymph nodes play a very important role in our body’s immune system. They’re located throughout the body including in the neck, under the arm (armpit), in the abdomen and into the groin. We don’t normally notice our lymph nodes as most of the time they are small, not swollen and painless. But certain infections and conditions, including cancer, may cause them to enlarge, swell and become painful.
“Another way to think about lymph nodes is a specialized filtration system designed to protect our bodies against invaders such as germs and viruses,” radiation oncologist Dr. James Taylor previously told SurvivorNet. “Usually, when our bodies are not fighting an infection or a cancer, we do not notice our lymph nodes. They are like a silent security system continuously monitoring our bodies for foreign invaders and responding quickly when an intruder is noticed.”
But when white blood cells and lymph nodes “become activated,” that’s when they can swell and become noticeable. And there are many possible causes for a swollen lymph node. The most common reason is infection, but an inflammatory or immune response, like from a COVID-19 vaccine, can also be the cause.
“Following vaccine administration, the body starts to create memory white blood cells to be able to recognize and fight the virus if it becomes exposed at a future time,” Dr. Taylor explained. “Because lymph nodes contain large amounts of white blood cells, some people will notice their lymph nodes swell following a vaccine as these cells are reacting to the vaccine.”
When caused by an infection or vaccine, a swollen lymph node generally resolves itself within “a relatively short time period.” Dr. Taylor recommends that if you notice a swollen lymph node that lasts longer than one or two weeks, it’s time to see your doctor.
Although this was not the case for Alison Fane, lymph nodes can also swell from cancer.
“Some cancers, such as lymphoma, involve the lymph nodes and cause them to grow and swell,” Dr. Taylor said. “Other cancers can spread or metastasize to lymph nodes which can also cause them to become enlarged. Sometimes, the nodes can enlarge in a person with cancer because the body is fighting the cancer, and this does not mean that the cancer has spread into their lymph nodes.”
Dr. Taylor stressed that while a swollen lymph node may be normal, it is abnormal for them to remain swollen. If you have lymph nodes that have been present for over a week or become painful at all, you should see your doctor right away. At SurvivorNet, we like to say that if you can feel something, you should say something because you never know when it lead to an important diagnosis.