Study Finds Individuals With Tattoos Face Increased Lymphoma Risks

There have been a number of studies published in recent years about the potential health effects from tattoo ink traveling to the lymph nodes, increasing the risk of allergic reactions, infections and cancer.

A new study warns that tattoo ink may cause inflammation in the lymph nodes, increasing the risk of individuals developing lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer.

In findings published this week in the medical journal eClinicalMedicine, Swedish researchers from Lund University investigated the association between tattoos and lymphoma, discovering what appears to be a complex association linking the two.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system. It occurs when lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, begin to grow and multiply uncontrollably.

There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma (or Hodgkin’s disease) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both types can occur in lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, blood, and other organs, but they have different characteristics and treatment approaches. Symptoms of lymphoma can include swollen lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, weight loss, and fatigue.

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In this new study, researchers identified cases of malignant lymphoma diagnosed between 2007 and 2017 in people aged 20-60 using data from the Swedish National Cancer Register. For each case, three age- and sex-matched controls were selected from the Total Population Register. They then estimated the incidence rate ratio (IRR) risk of malignant lymphoma in individuals with tattoos.

The research included a total of 11,905 participants. Of these, 2,938 were diagnosed with lymphoma between the ages of 20 and 60. Out of the lymphoma group, 1,398 responded to the questionnaire. The control group had 4,193 participants. Among those with lymphoma, 21% (289 people) had tattoos, compared to 18% (735 people) in the control group without a lymphoma diagnosis.

Researchers determined the risk of developing lymphoma was 21% higher among individuals with tattoos.

In their analysis, the researchers indicated it is likely that when tattoo ink is injected into the skin, the body perceives it as a foreign substance, triggering an immune response. A portion of the ink is then carried away from the skin to the lymph nodes, where it is deposited. It is believed that regardless of tattoo size, this causes low-grade inflammation in the body, which has the ability to trigger cancer.

While there have been a number of studies highlighting potential long-term health effects from tattoos, the authors of this latest study indicate that more research needs to be done to establish causality between lymphoma and tattoos.

Tattoo Ink Side Effects

The findings come amid a series of studies published in recent years that have raised concerns about the impact some types of tattoo ink may have on the human body.

In May 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer warning following 363 adverse events linked to tattoo problems reported since 2004. These injuries varied in severity but often involved mold-contaminated ink and unsterile tools, leading to aggressive infections, high fevers, rashes, shaking, and chills.

That same year, a study published in Scientific Reports raised concerns about tiny particles of heavy metals in tattoo ink accumulating in the lymph nodes, as detected by x-ray fluorescent technology. Similar to this latest study, they warned this accumulation can pose distinct health risks due to the unique behavior of such small particles in the body.

In 2019, multiple tattoo ink recalls were issued due to microbial contamination, which can cause infections and severe health complications when injected into the skin during tattoo procedures. Symptoms of infection commonly include red rashes or lesions at the tattoo site where contaminated ink was used.

Additionally, also in 2019 German researchers warned that  microscopic particles of nickel and chromium from tattoo needles could trigger allergic reactions. Tattoo inks often contain significant amounts of these metals, along with cobalt and mercury, which can migrate from the skin to the lymph nodes, further exacerbating allergic responses. This study also highlighted that metal particles from tattoo needles can abrade the skin and deposit into the lymph nodes, compounding health concerns.

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