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Tattoos increase the risk of developing cancer

In recent years, tattoos have become increasingly popular, yet their long-term health effects, including the potential risk of lymphoma, remain largely unknown.

A research group at Lund University has recently delved into the potential association between tattoos and lymphoma.

This investigation is shedding light on an area with limited research and providing new insights into how tattoos might impact health.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system. It primarily affects lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps fight infections.

There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Symptoms can include swollen lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, weight loss, and fatigue.

The exact cause of lymphoma is unknown, but factors like genetic mutations, infections, and weakened immune systems can contribute to its development. Treatment options vary and may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or stem cell transplants.

Tattoos and lymphoma risk

The researchers identified individuals diagnosed with lymphoma through population registers. These individuals were matched with a control group of the same sex and age but without lymphoma. Participants completed a questionnaire about their lifestyle factors, including whether they had tattoos.

The study encompassed 11,905 people, including 2,938 individuals diagnosed with lymphoma between the ages of 20 and 60. Among these, 1,398 responded to the questionnaire.

The control group consisted of 4,193 participants. In the lymphoma group, 21% (289 individuals) had tattoos, while 18% (735 individuals) in the control group were tattooed.

“After accounting for factors such as smoking and age, we found that the risk of developing lymphoma was 21% higher among those who were tattooed. It is important to remember that lymphoma is a rare disease, and 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,” noted Christel Nielsen, who led the study.

Impact of tattoo size on lymphoma risk

The experts initially hypothesized that the size of the tattoo would influence lymphoma risk. They speculated that a full-body tattoo might be associated with a greater cancer risk compared to a small butterfly on the shoulder.

However, the study revealed that the area of the tattooed body surface did not significantly impact the risk of developing lymphoma.

“We do not yet know why this was the case. 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,” explained Nielsen.

Long-term health impacts

Most people get their first tattoo at a young age, exposing them to tattoo ink for much of their lives. Despite this, research into the long-term health effects of tattoos is still in its early stages.

“We already know that when tattoo ink is injected into the skin, the body interprets this as something foreign that should not be there, activating the immune system. A large part of the ink is transported away from the skin to the lymph nodes where it is deposited,” said Nielsen.

The research group plans to continue studying the potential association between tattoos and other types of cancer. They also aim to investigate links between tattoos and inflammatory diseases.

“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 Nielsen.

“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.”

Future research on tattoos and health

While the study highlights a potential link between tattoos and an increased risk of lymphoma, it also underscores the need for further research.

Understanding the long-term health effects of tattoos is crucial as their popularity continues to rise. This study is a significant step towards uncovering the complex relationship between tattoos and health, paving the way for more comprehensive future investigations.

The study is published in the journal EClinicalMedicine.


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