As many as 2.8 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer globally in 2020 alone. Also, a staggering 685,000 women died of the disease the same year, as per the World Health Organisation. Breast cancer stands second, after lung cancer, in terms of cancer prevalence. To raise awareness regarding this disease, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is observed every year in October. Since 2020, the world is fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic too. Although several vaccines have hit the market and are being administered to people, there might be some hesitancy among people, especially cancer patients.
To understand the implications and benefits of COVID-19 vaccines for breast cancer patients, Onlymyhealth spoke to Dr Raghu Vamsi, Surgical Oncologist, HCG Cancer Centre, Vizag, Andhra Pradesh. COVID-19 vaccines are given to prevent severe infections and death. It has been almost a year since these vaccines are being administered and they are “proven to be very safe,” said Dr Vamsi. However, if you have any apprehensions regarding them, especially with regards to breast cancer, there are some things you must know before getting jabbed. But before we delve into it, let us know a little bit about breast cancer.
What Is Breast Cancer?
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As the name suggests, it’s cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts. It happens when the breast cells start to grow abnormally. It can display the following symptoms:
- The size, shape, and appearance of the breast might change
- A lump in the breast
- Inverted nipple
- Changes in the breast skin such as dimpling, pitting, or redness
- Abnormal nipple discharge
Here are some of its risk factors:
- Sex: Although breast cancer can also happen to men, it is much more common in women.
- Age: Although it can happen to anyone after puberty, it is more common as you age.
- Medical History: You get prone to breast cancer if you have/previously had any other breast-related ailment. Also, if you had cancer in one breast, you might get in the other too.
- Hereditary: If your mother, sister, or daughter have been/were diagnosed with this cancer, you might get it too.
Breast cancer is treatable and treatment options include surgery and radiation therapy.
Breast Cancer & COVID Vaccines: Things You Need To Know
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Now that we know enough about the disease, let us take a look at seven things you must know before getting vaccinated:
- If you are someone who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, then it’s completely safe for you to take the COVID shot. In fact, you can get vaccinated even before the cancer treatment starts.
- If you were recently diagnosed with breast cancer after recovering from COVID-19, then you should wait for at least three months, just like anyone else, before getting the COVID shot.
- If you are scheduled for a planned surgery for breast cancer and have to get your COVID shot, then get it 5-7 days before the procedure as you might get some mild side effects after vaccination. If the surgery needs to be done immediately, then take the vaccine a few weeks after so that you get time to recover.
- Breast cancer patients on radiotherapy can get the shot at any time. Those on chemotherapy should plan their vaccination in between the cycles, “preferably around two weeks from the last one in a three-weekly protocol,” said Dr Vamsi. This is to ensure that their blood count is normal/near normal at the time of vaccination.
- There is an apprehension that vaccination can cause the spread of cancer to lymph nodes. Although there have been one or two such instances, these were unrelated events, said Dr Vamsi and it is absolutely safe to take the shot even on the arm on the same side as cancer.
- Still, it is better to take the shot on the opposite arm as cancer. It rules out the worry about the spread of cancer to the lymph nodes.
- Cancer survivors might be apprehensive about any contraindication for the vaccine. Contraindication refers to a scenario when a drug, vaccine, or treatment is harmful to some individuals. But, you have nothing to worry about as there is no contraindication and the vaccine is safe for you just as it is for any other person.
Keeping these things in mind, it is equally important to note that not all cancer patients are the same. A person with stage 4 breast cancer will have a much weakened immune system as compared with someone with earlier stages of cancer. Hence, patients with advanced breast cancer should first consult the oncologist and get the COVID vaccine under their doctor’s guidance. For others too, if you have any worry regarding the same, consult your doctor, discuss and then move ahead. Remember, it is important to get jabbed to save lives from COVID-19 and to contribute to the world’s fight against this pandemic.
(With inputs from Dr Raghu Vamsi, Surgical Oncologist, HCG Cancer Centre, Vizag, Andhra Pradesh)
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