Can your tattoo be confused with cancer cells?

Can your tattoo be confused with cancer cells?

While this is the first case of tattoo ink migrating to the lymph nodes of a cervical cancer patient, the ink has appeared in the regional nodes of patients with breast cancer, melanoma (skin) cancer, as well as cancer of the testicles and vulva.

While this is the first case of tattoo ink migrating to the lymph nodes of a cervical cancer patient, the ink has appeared in the regional nodes of patients with breast cancer, melanoma (skin) cancer, as well as cancer of the testicles and vulva.

by Joanne Henning Tedesco — 

Recently, a California woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The tests conducted prior to surgery showed that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. After undergoing removal of her uterus, Fallopian tubes and dissection of her lymph nodes, she found out that the cancer had not spread after all. What were thought to be cancer cells in the lymph nodes were actually traces of tattoo ink.

The case report findings of the 32-year-old woman showed that she had extensive tattoos on her lower extremities applied over an 11-year period. As in many cervical cancer cases, imaging tests were performed prior to surgery to look for spreading of the disease. The whole-body PET-CT scan showed what appeared to be cancer in the left and right lymph nodes.

During surgery, 40 lymph nodes were removed to prevent further spreading, but when pathologists analyzed the tissue, no cancer was present. The report states, “Ultimately, pathological assessment of the resected fluorine-18-deoxyglucose-avid nodes indicated the presence of tattoo pigment with no malignant cells.”

While this is the first case of tattoo ink migrating to the lymph nodes of a cervical cancer patient, the ink has appeared in the regional nodes of patients with breast cancer, melanoma (skin) cancer, as well as cancer of the testicles and vulva.

The popularity of tattoos makes these findings particularly important. According to statistics provided by organizations, including the Pew Research Center, $1.6 billion is spent each year in the U.S. on tattoos, and 45 million Americans have them. Of that amount, a whopping 40 percent are adults between the ages of 26 to 40.

Both physicians and patients should be aware that tattoo ink can look like the spread of cancer to the lymph nodes — even if it is not.

 

Joanne Henning Tedesco is editor of AzNetNews.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 34, Number 5, October/November 2015.

 

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