Be Aware: Tattoos Might Cause False-Positive Test Results for Cancer
You love your tattoos. They are an artistic, permanent way to express your own individualistic personality and style. But tattoos can cause skin problems. They have been known to give test results that indicate that you have skin cancer when you do not. False-positive skin cancer results are becoming a recurring problem on people with tattoos.
How was the False-Positive Cancer Test Discovered?
Dr. Ramez Eskander was treating a 32 year old mother of 4 for cervical cancer. The PET scanner indicated that there additional tumors that had grown in the lady’s reproductive organs, and that the cancer had spread. The woman had a full hysterectomy as a precaution. Her uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and pelvic lymph nodes were removed. But once the post operative biopsies occurred, it was discovered that the areas that lit up on the PET test were not cancer, but ink from the woman’s tattoos that had migrated into her pelvis’ lymph nodes.
Upon a complete biopsy, it was discovered that there actually were tiny cancer cells in her pelvic lymph nodes. They were discovered at an early stage due to the mistake. The micro metastasis cells that were found were too small to be discovered on the PET scan, but were found during the biopsy procedure. So everything did work out alright in the long run. Because the cancer was discovered at an early stage, the woman does not need to undergo radiation treatments.
When a PET scan is used to detect cancer, a radioactive tracer is placed in your body. This tracer makes tumors glow when viewed on the scan. Doctors don’t always realize that if the tracer hits tattoo ink, the tattoo ink can also glow, indicating a tumor when there actually isn’t one. This is because some of the ink from your tattoo can be absorbed by lymph system cells. Unfortunately, if a doctor or patient is not aware of this fact, unnecessary surgery may be performed on non cancerous tissue.
Dr. Eskander used the experience for good, however. He published his findings in the “Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The purpose of publishing the article was to make other doctors aware of tattoo ink spreading into the lymphatic system and causing false-cancer results in PET scans.
Both you and your doctor need to be aware that tattoos may falsely indicate cancer on some screening tests. You don’t necessarily need to stop getting tattooed. If you have just a few tats, you can keep track of them more easily and are less likely to have the problem, however. If you are a person with many tattoos, you may be more likely to have an incorrect test result. Be sure to inform your doctor about any tattoos you may have before you undergo testing, so he or she will be informed about possible abnormalities on cancer tests.