Woman’s Tattoos Are Mistaken for Cancer During PET/CT Scan

May 10, 2019 Updated: May 10, 2019

A California woman got a PET scan and it was determined that her cervical cancer had spread to her pelvis. Bright areas around her lymph nodes alerted doctors to it.

The 32-year-old woman, whose name was not released, got her first diagnosis in 2012.

According to Fox News, the doctors used a PET/CT fusion scan, which uses technology from both types of scans. It requires that patients receive an injection of a radioactive tracer to make tumors show up during the scan.

However, when they performed the scan, it showed her cervical tumor and bright spots on her lymph nodes that appeared like cancer metastases, said the researchers.

The woman had to undergo surgery to remove several organs, including her uterus, fallopian tubes, and pelvic lymph nodes.

But when they examined the cells from the lymph nodes, the cells contained tattoo ink, not cancer.

She had at least a dozen tattoos on her legs.

“Those lymph nodes that were lighting up brightly on the PET scan were doing so because of the tattoo pigment that was in the lymph nodes,” study co-author Dr. Ramez Eskander said.

Eskander added that when one gets a tattoo, “some of that ink will be absorbed in the cells in the lymphatic system and migrate to levels of lymph nodes,” according to CBS Los Angeles.

“What we wanted to do [is] educate physicians, patients, families,” the doctor added. “When there is a PET scan that shows a bright lymph node, if a patient has significant tattoos or body art, then you have to be cognizant that these might be false positives.

In a later case, Australian doctors thought that a woman had a type of cancer around her lymph nodes, but upon further examination, they discovered that black tattoo ink from 15 years ago was the culprit. Her immune system was just reacting to it, CNN reported.

“Ninety-nine times out of 100, (this) will be lymphoma,” said Dr. Christian Bryant, a hematologist at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, the report noted.

Doctors removed a black-colored lymph node from her armpit.

“The skin has its own immune cells that are always surveilling the skin,” said Dr. Bill Stebbins, director of cosmetic dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, according to the report.

“The pigment is too large for these cells to eat and digest,” Stebbins continued. “That’s why they’re still there many years later.”

Some experts, meanwhile, have claimed that tattoos might cause skin cancer.

tattoo being applied
File photo of a tattoo being etched into someone’s skin. (Pixabay)

“Do tattoos cause skin cancer? This has been a question that researchers have been exploring for years. While there is no direct connection between tattoos and skin cancer, there are some ingredients in tattoo ink that may be linked to cancer,” says Penn Medicine. 

It says: “When it comes to cancer, black ink can be especially dangerous because it contains a very high level of benzo(a)pyrene. Benzo(a)pyrene is currently listed as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Health officials and researchers are especially concerned about the effects of black tattoo ink, as it is the most commonly used color for tattooing.”

Meanwhile, another cause for concern is what happens after the tattoo loses its pigmentation.

“This is especially true for blackout tattoos which tend to break down much more rapidly,” Penn Medicine adds. “When a tattoo begins to fade and lose its pigment it can create many cancer-causing compounds.”

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