Study: Tattoo ink may be linked to increased risk of lymphoma

By Ernie Mundell, HealthDay News
Researchers found that the risk of developing lymphoma was 21% higher among those who were tattooed. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News
Researchers found that the risk of developing lymphoma was 21% higher among those who were tattooed. Photo by Adobe Stock/HealthDay News

Research suggests that tattoo ink spurs inflammatory changes that might contribute to the development of lymphoma.

The findings are early, however, and more study must be done to confirm any links between tattooing and the blood cancer, Swedish researchers stressed.


"People will likely want to continue to express their identity through tattoos, and therefore it is very important that we as a society can make sure that it is safe," said study lead author Christel Nielsen, of Lund University. "For the individual, it is good to know that tattoos can affect your health, and that you should turn to your healthcare provider if you experience symptoms that you believe could be related to your tattoo."

In the study, Nielsen's team looked over answers to a questionnaire filled out by almost 4,200 adults, about 1,400 of who had developed a lymphoma between the ages of 20 and 60.

"After taking into account other relevant factors, such as smoking and age, we found that the risk of developing lymphoma was 21 percent higher among those who were tattooed," Nielsen said in a university news release. "It is important to remember that lymphoma is a rare disease and that our results apply at the group level. The results now need to be verified and investigated further in other studies and such research is ongoing."


The researchers wondered if the size of a tattoo (or tattoos) might influence the risk, but they found no difference in lymphoma risk whether the tattooed area was large or small.

"We do not yet know why this was the case," Nielsen said. "One can only speculate that a tattoo, regardless of size, triggers a low-grade inflammation in the body, which in turn can trigger cancer. The picture is thus more complex than we initially thought."

The study wasn't designed to prove cause-and-effect. Still, there's prior science backing up the tattoo-lymphoma link, Nielsen noted.

"We already know that when the tattoo ink is injected into the skin, the body interprets this as something foreign that should not be there and the immune system is activated," she explained. "A large part of the ink is transported away from the skin, to the lymph nodes where it is deposited."

Nielsen's groups plans more study on whether tattoos might have links to other forms of cancer.

The findings were published in the June issue of eClinical Medicine.

More information

Find out more about caring for tattooed skin at the American Academy of Dermatology.

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